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.''
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.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller will try and keep his resurgent second half of his season going against a tough Packers secondary in Week 15. Miller has emerged as a streaming option over the last month, posting 24 receptions for 313 yards and one touchdown over his last four games. He will have a tough test in Week 15 against a Packers Defense that is allowing the ninth fewest fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. Secondary receivers have enjoyed modest success, at times, against Green Bay but the Bears offense will need to stay hot if they intend on keeping their playoff hopes alive. Miller's fantasy stock is rising but will be a dicey start during the fantasy playoffs.
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will try and stay red-hot against a tough Packers Defense in Week 15. The Bears season is on the line and Trubisky has delivered in recent weeks, averaging 286 passing yards and racking up nine total touchdowns (two rushing, seven passing) over his last three games. Trubisky now will go up against a Packers defense that is allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, surrendering only 10 touchdown passes over their last nine games played. Only one quarterback (the Cowboys Dak Prescott) has posted more than 20 fantasy points against the Packers but they haven't faced a passer with the ability to run like Trubisky. The third-year quarterback's arrow is pointing up but fantasy owners should hesitate throwing him into starting lineups during the fantasy playoffs. Trubisky has an decent chance at top-12 numbers among quarterbacks for Week 15.
The New York Jets Defense had a nice run of solid matchups, making them an attractive streaming option in fantasy. That portion of the schedule is over and so is the Jets defense's usability in fantasy. The Jets will take on MVP candidate Lamar Jackson and the high-flying Ravens on Thursday night in Baltimore in what is arguably the worst matchup for fantasy a defense could possibly face. The Jets defense may also be without star safety Jamal Adams (ankle), who will be a true game-time-decision Thursday night. Regardless of Adams' status, the Jets defense belongs back on waivers.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (hamstring) and wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) were not seen at practice on Wednesday. Henry has been by far the best running back in football in the second half of the season. He's gone over 100 yards rushing in four straight games against the Chiefs, Jaguars, Colts and Raiders and has seven touchdowns in that span (all on the ground). The Titans continue to rest him early in the week, but fantasy owners aren't taking him off their benches. He'll face the Texans this Sunday as an elite RB1. Humphries is no guarantee to return this weekend. No pass-catchers can be trusted outside of A.J. Brown or Corey Davis in this run-first offense.
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery will be a focal point of the Bears offense against the Packers in Week 15. The numbers may not show it but Montgomery is really beginning to bloom in the Bears offense over the past few games. The rookie's vision between the tackles is improving and has been a tough guy to bring upon first contact. Now Montgomery will take on a Packers Defense that is allowing the fifth most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Green Bay has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns to running backs this season and 13 different backs have posted 11 or more fantasy points against them. Montgomery has a strong chance at becoming the 14th back among that list in Week 15 and should be considered a solid RB2 with upside.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) took part in individual drills at practice on Wednesday. It's a good start to the practice week for Olsen, but he'll still need to be cleared from the league's protocol before he can play in Week 15 against the Seahawks. Ian Thomas had five catches for 57 yards and a score last Sunday with Olsen out, but he'd move to a backup role if Olsen returns. Olsen would return to low-end TE1 status in the fantasy playoffs this weekend if he's cleared to play against Seattle.
Denver Broncos rookie tight end Noah Fant (foot) will not practice on Wednesday, but his outlook is "positive overall." Fant caught all four of his targets for 113 yards and his third touchdown of the season in the surprising win over the Texans in Week 14. In his first game with quarterback Drew Lock last week against the Chargers, Fant had just one catch for five yards. Fant has been up and down in his rookie season, but his upside is no doubt much higher with Lock under center. If he plays, the rookie tight end will be an upside TE2 against the Chiefs in a game where the Broncos might be passing often. If Fant cannot get cleared, Jeff Heuerman would be the primary pass-catching tight end on Sunday against KC.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder has been ice cold lately with just seven catches for 56 yards over his last three games combined. Prior to that ugly stretch, Crowder had been playing very well but QB Sam Darnold has been connecting more with Robby Anderson in recent weeks. It's understandable if fantasy owners want to shy away from Crowder given his lack of production and a tough matchup at Baltimore, but the Ravens are just middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. As for the targets, Crowder has gotten 16 over the last two games and Demaryius Thomas (hamstring) won't play Thursday. Expect Crowder to see plenty of targets in a pass-happy game script for New York making him usable as a WR3 in fantasy.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (foot), wide receiver Golden Tate (foot) and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle) were all limited in practice on Wednesday. Tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion) was also limited. Engram has been out since Nov. 4, but he'd be a solid TE1 option against the Dolphins this weekend if he's able to return. Rookie Kaden Smith has been holding down the fort. Cody Latimer would enter three-receiver sets if Tate is unable to play this weekend. Tate has a lowered fantasy ceiling with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton also commanding looks in this offense. Jones was seen without a boot on his foot at practice. He's making progress but is expected to miss one more game. Even in a good matchup against Miami, Eli Manning would be a low-end QB2 if he makes another start.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson has been on fire lately and should see plenty of targets again Thursday when the Jets visit the Ravens. Anderson got off to a horrible start this season but has been red-hot lately with 100-plus yards in two straight games and a touchdown in three of his last four games. He seems to have made a connection with Sam Darnold who has peppered Anderson with double-digit targets back-to-back weeks and will likely have to throw a ton again in this one with the game script likely working against the Jets. Expect Anderson to get 10-plus targets again this week with Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) not expected to play. Fire Anderson up as a WR2 with upside if the Jets can get him in the end zone.