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.''
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary ran the ball 21 times in a Week 15 win, piling up 87 yards. He also caught two passes, but gained just two yards total. Singletary was solid in this one but didn't make any huge plays against a tough Steelers Defense. He was certainly the featured back though, out-touching Frank Gore 23-10. He'll have a tough matchup against the stout Patriots run defense next week on Saturday.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was responsible for two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He completed 13 of his 25 pass attempts for 139 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also ran the ball seven times for 28 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His passing score came on a 14-yard pass to Tyler Kroft and his rushing score came on a one-yard scamper. Allen led his team to a win against a tough Steelers Defense, but it certainly wasn't his best fantasy performance of the season.
Buffalo Bills running back Frank Gore ran the ball 10 times in a Week 15 win, gaining just 15 yards total. Gore was thoroughly out-touched and out-played by Devin Singletary, who gained 89 total yards on 23 touches. It'll be an even tougher matchup next week against the New England Patriots, where Gore shouldn't be much of a fantasy consideration.
Minnesota Vikings running back Mike Boone had a great game in Week 15's blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The undrafted second-year back out of Cincinnati rushed 13 times for 56 yards and two touchdowns in the win, finding the end zone for the first time in his young career. Boone worked as the lead back in the second half with starter Dalvin Cook (shoulder) out, and he looked just as explosive as he did when he dominated in the preseason this year. Cook was ruled out very quickly and Alexander Mattison (ankle) could be looking at an extended absence, as evidenced by the Vikings signing Tony Brooks-James to their practice squad last Wednesday. Boone is a priority pickup with Cook and Mattison ailing as he would be squarely on the RB2 radar in Week 16 if they are both ruled out. Stay tuned for updates on all three Vikings' backs.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense stepped up in a big way in Week 15's 39-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. They tallied a whopping seven takeaways (three interceptions and four fumble recoveries), three sacks, and a touchdown as the Chargers looked flustered all game long. The most notable play was Danielle Hunter's strip-sack and forced fumble that was scooped by Ifeadi Odenigbo and returned 56 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The defense took control of this game from the get-go, but the secondary continued its stretch of subpar play and Xavier Rhodes was replaced by Mike Hughes for a good portion of the game. The Vikings Defense will be a risky option in Week 16's home matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
Minnesota Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had himself a game in Week 15, going 4-for-4 on field goals attempts and knocking in three extra points in a 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Bailey hit from 26, 27, 38, and 44 yards and is now sitting at an impressive 92% field goal percentage for the season. Bailey is a recommended start in Week 16's home matchup against the rival Green Bay Packers.
Oakland Raiders WR Tyrell Williams caught two of his three targets for 45 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown, in a 20-16 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: After scoring in five consecutive games to open the year, Williams had gone six straight games without a touchdown prior to the Week 15 contests. He's an all-or-nothing, touchdown-dependent flex option.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. caught two of three targets for eight yards and a touchdown in Week 15's convincing win over the Los Angeles Chargers. His score was a one-yarder off of play-action to open up the game's scoring in the first quarter. It was the second touchdown of the promising rookie's career, with the first coming back in Week 11. That being said, Smith Jr. is still working behind Kyle Rudolph and does not receive enough volume to be in consideration for fantasy rosters heading into Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Chris Conley caught four of his eight targets for 49 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-16 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: Conley has been good for a handful of grabs and around 50 yards most weeks, but he entered the game with just two touchdowns. At best, he's a risky flex option.
Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey rushed 19 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks. He also added eight grabs for 88 yards on 10 targets.
Fantasy Spin: McCaffrey continues to put up amazing numbers, win or lose. He will be in the conversation for No. 1 overall fantasy pick heading into the 2020 season. The Panthers travel to meet the Colts in Week 16.
Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore finished with eight catches for 113 yards on 12 targets in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Spin: That's four 100-yard games in the past seven outings, and at least 75 yards in all seven during the span. He is a legit WR2 in PPR formats, and a nice WR3 or flex option in standard play. The Panthers travel to meet the Colts in Week 16.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 19-of-25 for 207 yards and a touchdown in a dominating Week 15 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. He also added three rushes for 14 yards. He did toss an interception, but the blame for that one lays squarely on backup running back Ameer Abdullah. Cousins was very efficient again this week, but he simply didn't need to put up big fantasy numbers as the Vikings held a two-possession lead and heavily emphasized the ground game for most of the second half. His lone touchdown pass came on a one-yarder to Irv Smith Jr. to open up the game. Cousins will be on the low-end QB1 radar for Week 16's home matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
The Washington Redskins Defense ended a three-game streak of playing admirably in Sunday's loss to the Eagles. Carson Wentz launched three touchdowns through the air, while Miles Sanders racked up 172 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns of his own. The Redskins didn't help their bottom line with turnovers and sacks the way they have been of late, getting to Wentz just twice and recovering one forced fumble. The end result was 31 points surrendered defensively and not enough complementary stats to account for those points in fantasy lineups. Washington's defense will have a chance to bounce back against the Giants at home next week.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught all three of his targets for 48 yards in Week 15's 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Rudolph finished second in targets and receiving yardage on the team this week as he surprisingly remained relevant despite Adam Thielen's return. Rookie Irv Smith Jr. vultured a one-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but Rudolph's continued involvement in the offense is definitely encouraging. Continue to view him as a touchdown-dependent TE2 heading into Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon had one grab for 58 yards on his only target in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers and he also threw a pass and was picked off.
Fantasy Spin: Gordon is a big-play receiver capable of being a fantasy contributor. He just still isn't 100 percent part of the offense yet. Avoid him outside of deeper fantasy leagues in Week 16 against the Cardinals.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette rushed 15 times for 42 yards and caught five of his seven targets for 31 yards in a 20-16 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette has been held to 50 rushing yards or less in three straight games, but fortunately for fantasy owners, his increased role in the passing game this year has allowed him to salvage decent point totals more often than not. At worst, he should be a volume-based RB2.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner totaled 10 tackles with two passes defensed in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly totaled 17 tackles with two quarterback hits in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was largely absent from his team's offensive attack for the second week in a row on Sunday. Harmon caught two passes on three targets and accumulated just 22 total yards in a loss to the Eagles. This is a discouraging trend for Harmon after he appeared to be carving out a spot in the pecking order in late November and early December. In any case, the fantasy season is at the point where owners just have to trust what their eyes are telling them. Harmon has dropped too far off the map to be considered a realistically safe bet in the late stages of the fantasy playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett posted eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers on a team-high nine targets.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett had been banged up recently, battling a shin contusion, but he is back just in time for fantasy owners. The Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16.