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.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. San Francisco's defense ranks 22nd against the run despite being the best in the league against the pass, presenting Murray with a good matchup. The problem is, he's seen a steady decrease in snaps and touches over the last three games, including his second-lowest snap total of the season last week, 13. This usage makes Murray nothing more than flex play in deep leagues, even in a more run-friendly matchup.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (shoulder) has been ruled out for Week 14 against the Cardinals despite getting in some limited practice this week. It will be his third straight missed game, and fantasy owners shouldn't be holding out much hope that he can help you the rest of the way if you've made the fantasy playoffs. A Pro Bowler in 2018, Conner has disappointed with 390 rushing yards and five missed games. Benny Snell Jr. should continue to carry the load on early downs in Conner's absence. He'll be an upside RB3 in the good matchup with Arizona, but Jaylen Samuels should continue to see more work in the passing game.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis (knee) was back at practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. Pettis is making progress, but he won't be back on the field for Week 14 against the Saints. The 24-year-old has been a second-year bust, catching only 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in his 11 games in 2019. With several 49ers rookies possibly passing him on the depth chart in 2020, Pettis is no longer a must-hold in dynasty/keeper leagues either. He posted 27 catches for 467 yards and five scores in 12 games in his rookie season.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) is unlikely to play in Week 14 against the Buccaneers after the team claimed kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers on Wednesday. Vinatieri will turn 47 years old this month and has missed 14 total kicks this year, so McLaughlin could take over for him this weekend and finish out the year as the team's kicker. McLaughlin made seven of his eight kicks in his time for the 49ers filling in for Robbie Gould, and he could become a viable kicking streamer down the stretch in fantasy. Vinatieri, who has been a legendary kicker in his career, could be nearing the end.
Washington Redskins wide receivers Paul Richardson (hamstring) and Trey Quinn (concussion) did not practice for the second straight day on Thursday. They're both unlikely to play in Week 14 against the Packers. Neither receiver has moved the fantasy needle in 2019 either, so they should both be firmly planted on the waiver wire in your league. Outside of rookie Terry McLaurin -- and he's a risky fantasy proposition these days as well -- no Washington receiver is worth your consideration for a lineup spot. If Richardson and Quinn are inactive this Sunday, rookies Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims Jr. will be in three-wide sets. That means all of the Redskins pass-catchers will be rookies with a rookie quarterback throwing them passes. Look elsewhere.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) did not take part in practice on Thursday. Agholor returned in the Week 13 loss to the Dolphins and had an underwhelming three catches for 41 yards in the embarrassing defeat. He's not a lock to play on Monday night against the Giants, and even if he does, he's a low-upside WR4/flex in deeper leagues. Agholor just hasn't proven to be much of a producer unless Alshon Jeffery misses time with injury. If Agholor can't go this week, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught his first touchdown of his career last Sunday, would see an even bigger role in the passing game.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. The 49ers rank first in the league in passing yards allowed per game but only 22nd in rushing yards allowed per contest. They've also been somewhat susceptible to big running plays, as they've allowed the ninth-most rushing plays of 20 yards or more. That bodes well for Kamara, who has been a fantasy bust despite garnering at least 20 touches in two of his last three games. Expect New Orleans to lean on the running game, giving Kamara another chance at 20 touches- and his first touchdown since Week 3. He'll have slightly more upside in PPR, though volume will allow him to put up low-end RB1 numbers this week.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) is out of practice for the second straight day this week on Thursday. All signs are pointing towards Olsen sitting Week 14 out against the Falcons after suffering a serious head injury in Week 13. If you've been relying on Olsen in your tight end spot, it's time to make other plans for the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Ian Thomas should become the primary pass-catching tight end in Carolina if Olsen sits, and he'd have streaming TE2 appeal if that's the case.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (ribs) remained out of practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Unless Williams gets in at least a limited practice on Friday, he's headed for his second straight missed game after getting injured in Week 11. With Darrel Williams (hamstring) on Injured Reserve, we could be looking at a committee approach with LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware in Week 14 against the Patriots. Even if Williams is able to play, he'd be an RB3/flex to fade in the fantasy playoffs. Thompson might have the most fantasy upside this weekend with the Chiefs limiting McCoy's touches down the stretch.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is not practicing for the second straight day this week on Thursday. As of now, it's looking like Thielen can't be trusted to return in Week 14 against the Lions in a good matchup. Keep him locked to your bench unless something changes with his status on Friday. Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Olabisi Johnson should remain the top three passing targets if Thielen misses another contest. Diggs went for seven catches and 143 yards in the last matchup with Detroit, so he'll be a high-end WR2 regardless of whether Thielen plays. Rudolph has become a touchdown hog with Thielen out of the lineup.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will face an extremely tough test in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers. Here's where the 49ers Defense ranks in several key categories: 45 sacks, second in the league, 134.2 pass yards allowed per game, first in the league and 29.4 pass attempts allowed, second in the league. Brees will potentially have to take on this fearsome pass rush without his starting offensive tackles, Andrus Peat (forearm) and Terron Armstead (ankle). Even in the offensive-friendly Superdome, Brees isn't dropping back to pass 40 times against this defense. Expect a more run-oriented gameplan from New Orleans, making Brees more of a QB2 this week.
Updating a previous report, New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate (concussion) is practicing in full on Thursday. Tate looks ready to return in Week 14 against the Eagles on Monday night after sitting out last week. With tight end Evan Engram (foot) also on track to make his return, Tate will be more of a PPR WR3 for fantasy owners with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton also being involved. Quarterback Eli Manning is also expected to get the start under center with rookie Daniel Jones (ankle) not expected to play.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. Everett missed the game last week and is in danger of sitting again in Week 14 against the Seahawks on Sunday night. If that is the case, Tyler Higbee, who caught seven of eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown in Week 13, would be a low-end TE1 option again for fantasy owners struggling at the position in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Everett will need to at least get in a limited practice on Thursday or Friday to have a shot at returning to the field this weekend.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) is on the injury report for Week 14 against the Buccaneers after his knee flared up in warmups this past Sunday. Vinatieri missed all three of his attempts from 55, 52 and 46 yards on Sunday, with two of them getting blocked. With Indy claiming kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers on Wednesday, Vinatieri's status is very much up in the air for this Sunday. Vinatieri was limited in practice on Wednesday and isn't a good fantasy option, even if he's active this weekend. McLaughlin could become a worthy streaming consideration if he fills in at all for Vinatieri in the last four games.
Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (knee) is going on season-ending Injured Reserve on Thursday, according to a source. It's a big blow to Jacksonville's already weak run defense, especially with Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler coming to town in Week 14. The 24-year-old Jack totaled 66 tackles, half a sack and one interception in his 11 games this year for Jacksonville. Fantasy owners shouldn't be using the Jaguars Defense in the first round of the fantasy playoffs despite facing a slumping Chargers offense.
New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle) is not practicing on Thursday and is doing leg work in a boot with a trainer on the side. Dealing with a mild high ankle sprain, Jones is a long shot to suit up on Monday night against the Eagles and could also miss Week 15. It means that veteran Eli Manning will get another start in Week 14 against an old foe in the Eagles. Philly's secondary has plenty of concerns and was just roasted by the Dolphins. The G-Men could be getting both Evan Engram and Golden Tate back as well, but Manning remains a low-upside QB2 if he gets the start, as expected, on Monday.
New York Giants tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) and wide receiver Golden Tate (concussion) are all practicing on Thursday. All three players have a chance of returning on Monday night against the Eagles, but they'll be tough calls in fantasy if they carry questionable designations and are game-time calls. Engram has disappointed this year because of injury, but he'll immediately return to being a TE1 if he's active. Tate's return would be good news for quarterback Eli Manning, who will likely start for Daniel Jones (ankle), but it will hurt Sterling Shepard's upside as a WR2 in a great matchup. Ellison would only be fantasy relevant if he starts and Engram sits. Philly's defense won't be as great of a streamer if New York gets all their offensive weapons back.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) is still not cleared for contact on Thursday. It's looking like Howard is in line to miss his fourth straight game unless he can get in a full practice on Friday or Saturday. Rookie Miles Sanders had a season-high 22 touches in the Week 13 loss to the Dolphins and continues to be the primary ball-handler in the backfield with Howard sidelined. Although the Giants defensive front has been stingy to running backs of late, Sanders would have RB2 upside yet again this week if Howard misses another game. Making things even tougher for Howard owners is the fact that the game this week is on Monday night.
Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Tony Pollard (ankle) missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday night against the Bears. Pollard has just 58 carries for 264 yards and one touchdown on the season on the ground as the backup to Ezekiel Elliott, so he doesn't really have any standalone value to begin with. He has added 12 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown this year. Consider him a game-time decision against Chicago, but he should be nowhere near fantasy lineups to begin with.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) missed practice all week and has been ruled out for Thursday night against the Bears. Also out are safety Jeff Heath (shoulder) and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (knee). Vander Esch is dealing with a pretty serious injury that could send him to Injured Reserve any day now. It's bad news for the interior of Dallas' defense, but Sean Lee is more than capable of picking up the slack if he can stay healthy himself. Vander Esch's absence is good news for the Bears ground game and running backs David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen on Thursday night.