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.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough has a tough Week 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town. While the Bucs pass defense sits last in the league, their run defense sits near the top, and with rookie quarterback David Blough unable to consistently get scoring opportunities, Scarbrough's value gets seriously capped. Scarbrough has taken full control of the Lions backfield over the last three weeks, but he will be hard to trust this week, especially in PPR leagues. Fantasy owners can slot Scarbrough in as an RB3 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough came crashing back down to earth in Week 14 after an impressive debut in Week 13 against a tough Chicago squad. Week 15 will offer up the easiest test for Blough yet in the form of the Tampa Buccaneers swiss-cheese secondary, but it's extremely hard to trust a rookie making only his third career start with fantasy owners heading into the fantasy semi-finals. Those who do need a quarterback this week can do better. Blough will slot in as a mid-range QB2 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Danny Amendola will have a chance to make some noise this week with Marvin Jones (ankle) placed on the injured reserve. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their swiss-cheese secondary are coming to town in Week 15. The Bucs secondary has given up the most points to wide receivers so far this season, meaning Amendola will likely get his chances in this one. Amendola has seen 16 targets over the last two weeks with Jones in the lineup and third-string quarterback David Blough under center, so volume shouldn't be the problem. Relying on a third-string quarterback in the fantasy semi-finals might give fantasy owners nightmares until game day though. Amendola will slot in as a boom-or-bust WR3 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay is in a prime spot heading into the fantasy semi-finals with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town in Week 15. The Bucs defense has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers so far this season, and with Marvin Jones (ankle) no longer around to poach targets, Golladay should be in for a monster day. The third-year wide receiver will slot in as WR1 for this matchup.
The Carolina Panthers designated wide receiver Chris Hogan (knee) to return from Injured Reserve. Hogan practiced on Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 27. The former Patriot injured his knee in Week 4 against the Texans on a special teams play and underwent arthroscopic surgery. Hogan has just three catches for 24 yards this year. If he is able to make it back in the final three games, his role will mostly be on special teams, so he won't have any relevance for fantasy owners playing for a championship.
Seattle Seahawks TE Luke Willson (hamstring) might return for the Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers after missing the past three games. 'He's champing at the bit to play this week,' head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11. 'He's politicking. Like those guys in Washington D.C., he's working it. Give him credit, he wants to play in the worst way. He ran well (Wednesday). He was really pumped up about it. He told me at least four times how well he looked in his workouts.'
Fantasy Spin: Willson would be a big addition to the offense, which can be tight-end friendly. Still, there is just too much risk for fantasy owners to invest a roster spot on Willson at this late and critical juncture.
Seattle Seahawks DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) was listed as 'questionable' in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11 by head coach Pete Carroll, who indicated the defensive end is likely a game-time decision for Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
Seattle Seahawk WR Tyler Lockett (shin) is back to full health after dealing a shin contusion. 'Yeah, I think he's really back,' head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11. 'He felt really good last week and he's going into this week raring to go. He's fine.'
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy owners have gotten just five grabs for 81 yards and no scores in three games since he suffered an injury in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers. He is a risky fantasy play based on his recent production, but a solid option when 100 percent.
Seattle Seahawks LB Jadeveon Clowney (flu) is battling the flu and head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11 that the linebacker is 'hurting. He's going to have to work his way through the week to make it for game day.'
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead led all wide receivers with 13 yards on three receptions and a touchdown in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Snead hasn't had a game in which he's caught over 20 receiving yards since Week 5. Baltimore faces a Jets Defense on Thursday Night that has been generous to opposing wideouts in 2019, but it's hard to trust Snead in the matchup with his lack of volume. Snead shouldn't see your lineups in Week 15, but could be viable as a streamer if you're desperate in deeper leagues.
Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards rushed for 20 yards on four attempts in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore matches up against a Jets Defense on Thursday Night that's been stiff against opposing running backs in 2019. Edwards remains as nothing more than a quality handcuff to Mark Ingram in Week 15.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown caught all three of his targets for a loss of two yards in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Brown's performance was disappointing and it was his second ineffective game in a row, as he caught only one ball for two yards against the 49ers in Week 13. Hollywood has a good opportunity to bounce back on Thursday Night in Baltimore's matchup with the New York Jets. The Jets Defense is allowing an average of 167 receiving yards in 2019, which is more than quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown for in the last two weeks. Even with the good matchup, Brown should be seen as nothing more than a high-end WR3 in an offense that targets its tight ends more than its receivers.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle caught 2-of-3 targets for 10 yards and a three-yard touchdown in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Boyle was able to capitalize on his opportunity to score shortly after Mark Andrews exited the game with a knee injury. If Andrews is unable to go, it's hard to tell whether Boyle or Hayden Hurst will see an expanded role at the tight end position. Boyle and Hurst have put up similar numbers up to this point in the season as they are both close to 300 yards in receiving and have two touchdowns each. Boyle could be a viable streaming option in deeper leagues if Andrews is unable to go, but it's probably best to keep him on the bench Thursday Night against a Jets Defense that has allowed only two touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst caught all three of his targets for a season-high 73 yards and his second touchdown of the season in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Hurst was able to step up for quarterback Lamar Jackson after Mark Andrews exited the game with a knee injury. If Andrews is unable to go on Thursday Night, Hurst is a viable play in an offense that relies heavily on its tight ends. Baltimore hosts a Jets Defense in Week 15 that has only allowed two touchdowns and an average of 40 receiving yards to opposing tight ends in 2019.
Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker (hamstring), C Mason Cole (knee), DT Corey Peters (non-injury), OG Justin Pugh (back), LB Terrell Suggs (back, illness) and OG J.R. Sweezy (illness) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. WR Andy Isabella (shoulder), CB Byron Murphy (calf), CB Kevin Peterson (shoulder) and LB Joseph Walker (ribs) was limited during practice.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram rushed to 50 yards on 15 attempts and caught all three of his targets in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore matches up against a Jets Defense that has only allowed multiple touchdowns to opposing running backs twice this season. The Bills Defense has also held opposing running backs to under 100 rushing yards in all games but one in 2019. Ingram has failed to get in the end zone for the last two games and is a touchdown-dependent RB2/RB3 play in Week 15.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzgerald has been targeted at least seven times in three of the last four games but has been held to 40 yards or less in two of the last three games. He could be a possible flex option in some deeper leagues but could be avoided in a majority of leagues.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk is coming off one of his better games of the season and has been targeted at least seven times in five of the last six games. He can be considered a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues if he plays.
Kansas City Chiefs DE Frank Clark (illness, shoulder), CB Rashad Fenton (hamstring), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and LB Darron Lee (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. OG Andrew Wylie (shoulder) was limited during practice. OT Eric Fisher (groin), CB Kendall Fuller (thumb), DT Derrick Nnadi (elbow) and DE Alex Okafor (ankle) fully participated in practice.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams (rib) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Williams has missed the last few games but appears to have a chance to play in the Week 15 game. He can be a No. 2 running back or flex option in fantasy leagues if he is active for the game.