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.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) will not play against the Seahawks. Olsen did practice, albeit in a limited fashion, during the week, but is still not ready to make his return. With Carolina having already been eliminated from playoff contention, it is possible that the 36-year-old may not return this season, making Ian Thomas, who caught five of his 10 targets for 57 yards and a score against the Falcons in Week 14, a suitable streaming option on Sunday.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (foot) will not play against the Dolphins. Engram was able to practice in a limited capacity during the week, but with the team having virtually nothing to play for, it is realistic to assume that he may not return this year. With the team also down No. 2 Rhett Ellison (concussion), rookie Kaden Smith, who had two catches (five targets) for nine yards against the Eagles in Week 14, should draw the start. For fantasy managers in deeper formats, Smith does have streaming potential in Week 15, but only for those willing to take a chance.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle) will not play against Miami in Week 15. Jones was able to practice in a limited fashion during the week, but the team will take it slow as he works his way back from the high ankle sprain that he suffered during the matchup against the Packers a few weeks back. In his place, Eli Manning, who threw two touchdowns, while completing 50 percent of his passes during the overtime loss to the Eagles, will get the start against the Dolphins, with the potential for a solid outing against one of the worst defensive units in the league being a realistic possibility.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) will sit out once again and will not play on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Stafford is progressing, but still doesn't feel well enough to play, with the potential for a return this season unlikely, albeit still possible. Nonetheless, David Blough, who has thrown three touchdowns and three picks this season, will get another start against a weak Buccaneers Defense. For those in need of a quarterback in Week 15, the rookie does have upside, but also an equally low downside.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister has been a revelation this season, but he's come back to Earth recently. He'll be facing another uphill battle this weekend when Seattle visits Carolina, one of the stingiest defenses in the game versus opposing tight ends. Hollister has been held without a TD for three straight weeks, and he hasn't cracked 50 yards receiving during the stretch either. Meanwhile, the Panthers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, and they haven't allowed a tight end touchdown in nearly a month. Hollister is still a talented receiver, but other teams have caught on to some of his moves and he'll be in for another challenge in Week 15.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers has cranked it up recently, and he'll look to continue his stellar ways in the cool, crisp air of Charlotte on Sunday. Myers hasn't missed a field goal in over a month, he's been better on the road than in his wet and windy home stadium, and he'll be facing a Carolina team that does an excellent job of locking down opposing offenses only after they've gotten in field goal range. Carolina has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing kickers this year, and it should be a perfect day for booting the ball on Sunday. If there was ever a day to roll the dice on Myers, this is probably going to be the day.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson is set to face a Carolina Panthers Defense that has been plagued by the run all year. Carolina is the most generous run defense in the game for opposing running backs, and Carson will now shoulder nearly the entire load since Rashaad Penny has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. With Seattle's defense being beat up and their wide receivers still recovering from a flu epidemic that spread through the locker room, it's a perfect situation for Carson. Owners should be confident starting him, and he could be looking at a huge week.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf stepped into the primary role quite well while Tyler Lockett was banged up and ill, and he'll look to continue that growth this weekend as he faces a Carolina squad that has allowed the third-most yards to opposing wide receivers this year. The Panthers have proven quite adept at limiting touchdowns, but their bendy secondary has allowed some big weeks on the outside. Expect Metcalf to push the field and look for the home run ball, and his improved catching should keep him on the scoreboard even if he can't land the big one.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a rough game last week against the improved Rams Defense as he was held to zero touchdown passes for the first time in a year. Now he'll face off against another strong defense in Carolina. Though Wilson has usually found a way to have success against the Panthers, they always present a solid defense and make the games close. Wilson has won three of their last four matchups, but the games have only been decided by more than four points once. Wilson will have his full complement of receivers, and hopefully Tyler Lockett will finally be fully healthy and ready to resume his role as Wilson's favorite target.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (flu) was officially ruled out of Sunday's game on Saturday afternoon, and the Seahawks Defense is starting to look a little thin. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) was ruled out for the second week in a row, defensive end Ziggy Ansah is questionable with a neck injury, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin, one of the team's breakout stars, is questionable with a hamstring injury of his own. The good news is that the Seahawks defense will be facing a rookie quarterback that has thrown 12 interceptions this season, but they'll also be facing Christian McCaffrey, an MVP finalist. It's not a great week to bet on the Seahawks defense.
Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley is back in sunny southern California for Sunday's game against the Vikings, and he's been on a bit of a hot streak. Badgley isn't known for his power, but his accuracy has returned after a shaky start. Badgley is 10-for-12 from less than 50 yards over the last five weeks, pushing his season stats up closer to his career numbers now that he's healthy. Badgley's groin injury put him behind when he returned to the team, but the further he gets away from the issue, the better he's getting. He should be considered a highly accurate kicker from here on out.
Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James will get his first opportunity to face former teammate and friend Dalvin Cook when LA squares off against the Vikings on Sunday. James has faced Cook plenty of times in practice, but this will be the first game against one of the NFL's leading rushers. To go along with Cook, Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen will be returning to the field, and Kirk Cousins will be working on padding his resume as he's looking like one of the top passers in the league. The Chargers Defense has been better lately, but this matchup looks like a beastly one for the squad. Owners are probably able to make a better choice with a different one this week.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams is carrying quite the streak, and he'll be looking to add to it with another deep pass on Sunday. Williams has a reception of 40 or more yards in six straight games, though amazingly, only one of those bombs has turned into a touchdown. The third-year wideout is at 841 yards receiving, but it wasn't until last week's blowout against Jacksonville that he recorded his first score of the season. Facing off against a stingy Minnesota secondary, Williams will be hard-pressed to find an opening for another big play, but owners can bet he'll be trying and Rivers will give him a chance.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry has put up 60 or more receiving yards or a touchdown in seven of his nine games this season, and he'll get another opportunity on Sunday when he faces a Minnesota defense that is surprisingly soft against opposing tight ends. Though the Vikings are above average in just about every defensive category, opposing tight ends have been particularly successful in the fat part of the field. Minnesota has allowed the 10th-most yards to opposing tight ends this season, but they have done a good job of clamping down once they get close to the end zone. Expect Henry to get some opportunities, and he'll probably be able to keep his good games going with some decent numbers.
Following a series of ho-hum weeks through the middle of the season, Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has been on a hot streak of late, racking up 27 catches and 290 yards receiving over the last four games. Allen was able to haul in a pair of touchdowns over the stretch as well, and he has put up 68 or more receiving yards in each of the games. That said, Allen will be facing a tough matchup as he'll possibly be lining up across from Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and the rest of an intimidating Minnesota secondary. With the Vikings on a hot offensive streak, don't be surprised if LA is playing catch-up and Allen sees plenty of chances. He'll just have to fight his way through a lot of coverage to bring them in.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Devante Parker (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and will play on Sunday against the New York Giants. The Giants are starting four rookies in the secondary and Parker and the Dolphins shouldn't have too hard a time moving the ball. Parker is a strong WR2 with a nice ceiling for the fantasy semifinals this week. Parker's fellow Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson also cleared the protocol and will suit up for Sunday's game.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley said he is feeling 'healthier and healthier' ahead of a Week 15 matchup with a Miami Dolphins team ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing defense.
Fantasy Spin: Barkley hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 2, and he has gone five straight games without scoring. He has been one of the bigger fantasy disappointments this season, but RB2 numbers should be possible in Week 15 with a friendly matchup on tap.
Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list, Saturday, Dec. 14.
Fantasy Spin: The knee injury certainly won't help the former first-round pick establish himself as the potential starter in Seattle in 2020. If you own Penny in a dynasty league, you just have to stash him and hope he eventually turns things around.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman has seen his targets decrease since Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins returned healthy. He's seen one target over the last two games, but that catch was a 48-yard touchdown. Hardman doesn't see enough targets to warrant owning in most formats. He's a touchdown-dependent receiver that is only worth using in the deepest of leagues. It's unclear how he'll be worked into the game plan, so he's risky for fantasy formats.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has been arguably the best tight end in the NFL alongside George Kittle. Kelce is expected to easily surpass 1,000 receiving yards on the season during the Week 15 matchup with the Denver Broncos. Kelce should be in for a solid game against the average Broncos Defense. Fantasy owners have been able to count on Kelce basically every week this season. He'll remain a TE1 for this home matchup with Denver.