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FFL: Playoff Week 1 | NFL: Week 14

High stakes: Steelers, Browns renew rivalry, plenty on line

Wed Nov 13 2:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

Players: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Vance McDonald, James Conner, Kareem Hunt, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Mason Rudolph

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.''

COLLEGE REUNION

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.''

TAKE TWO

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.

HEY, JOE

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.

Player Notes
Tyler Boyd Dec 7 8:20am ET

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd has been on a roll as of late and will look to stay on course against Cleveland on Sunday. Boyd racked up 10 catches on 19 targets over his previous two outings, while also adding 160 yards and two touchdowns. John Ross (chest) will be back in the picture after missing some time, but Boyd is still an acceptable option in most fantasy leagues in Week 14, especially if you have nowhere else to turn.

From RotoBaller

Joe Mixon Dec 7 8:10am ET

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon has started to show signs of life as the season heads into the final stretch and will look to stay on track against Cleveland on Sunday. While the Browns have been effective against the run over the last four weeks, at least on paper, by allowing a third-best 16.73 fantasy points per game to opposing backs, the 23-year-old may be the most potent rusher that they have seen since Chris Carson back in Week 6. Mixon scored his first rushing touchdown of the year against Oakland and followed that up by recording another against the Jets in Week 13. He still has some work to do from a consistency standpoint, but he will likely keep trending in the right direction throughout the remainder of the season.

From RotoBaller

Andy Dalton Dec 7 5:50am ET

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton made his return to the lineup against the Jets after a three-game absence and played relatively well, throwing for 243 yards and a touchdown on 23-for-37 passing. While the Browns Defense isn't horrible, Dalton has played historically well against them throughout his career, making his outlook more promising than usual, especially with John Ross (chest) back in the lineup. If you need a quarterback with a solid upside in Week 14, Dalton could be your guy.

From RotoBaller

Curtis Samuel Dec 7 5:40am ET

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel will look to build off of the efficient showing that he had against the Redskins. After struggling against the Saints in Week 12, Samuel got his act together in Week 13 by finishing with four catches for 65 yards and a score against Washington. While that wasn't the most brilliant fantasy performance that we've seen out of the 23-year-old, he has the potential to score on any given week. With Greg Olsen (concussion) out against Atlanta, look for Samuel to get some extra attention from Kyle Allen, making him a decent option in deeper formats.

From RotoBaller

D.J. Moore Dec 7 4:10am ET

Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore has been one of the most productive fantasy options as of late and will look to keep things moving against Atlanta on Sunday. After recording just one touchdown throughout his first 10 games of the season, Moore has three over the last two weeks. He hasn't been targeted less than eight times in each of his previous eight games and should retain his must-start status in all fantasy formats in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Christian McCaffrey Dec 7 4:00am ET

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had arguably the worst performance of the season, at least as a runner, against the Redskins in Week 13. While he had a favorable matchup against one of the league's worst defenses, the 23-year-old had just 44 yards on 14 attempts to go along with an acceptable seven catches for 58 yards. That game marked only the third time all season that he failed to record a touchdown, but he should get back on track against Atlanta after playing well against them just a few weeks ago.

From RotoBaller

Kyle Allen Dec 7 3:50am ET

Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen has a difficult matchup on Sunday against the Falcons Defense. Atlanta has played well against opposing quarterbacks, especially as of late, and held Drees Brees to just one touchdown toss during the Thanksgiving matchup with New Orleans, while also forcing Allen to throw four picks just a few weeks ago. The 23-year-old is a different player than what we saw after he initially took over for Cam Newton (foot) earlier in the year, and should remain out of starting lineups across the board in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Green Bay Packers Dec 7 12:10am ET

The Green Bay Packers Defense gets a juicy Week 14 matchup against rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the Washington Redskins. For the season, Washington ranks in the bottom-10 of the league in points scored, sacks allowed, and interceptions thrown. Haskins has been sacked 14 times in the last three games combined. Green Bay ranks in the bottom-10 of the league in QB pressures but should have no trouble against Washington's offensive line.

From RotoBaller

Mason Crosby Dec 6 11:50pm ET

Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby will face the Washington Redskins in Week 14. The 35-year-old ranks 17th in fantasy points scored by kickers and only 26th in field goal attempts. Crosby has been money on extra points this year, sporting a 33 of 33 mark. He should have a chance to bolster these numbers against a Redskins team that allows 24.2 points per game, 21st in the NFL. Crosby should be able to nail at least a field goal and three extra points against Washington.

From RotoBaller

Jimmy Garoppolo Dec 6 11:40pm ET

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a middling QB2 in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints. With a 101.2 quarterback rating, Garoppolos season-long body of work looks great but hes surpassed 300 yards just twice and committed 14 total turnovers. Facing a challenging Saints Defense on the road, Garoppolo will likely be tasked to pace with the Saints but will have his healthiest receiving corps in weeks. In a potential shootout, Jimmy G may have upside, but his volatile results dont render him a trustworthy fantasy quarterback in the vital playoff weeks.

From RotoBaller

Jimmy Graham Dec 6 11:30pm ET

Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham gets a good matchup against the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter because the 32-year-old has seen a steady decline in snaps over the last three weeks. Graham even had a touchdown snatched away from him by backup tight end Mercedes Lewis. There's also the fact that he's registered only one catch in back-to-back games. Even the neediest of tight end needy fantasy owners should stay away from Graham this week.

From RotoBaller

Allen Lazard Dec 6 11:10pm ET

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard will take on the Washington Redskins in Week 14. The rookie had a career-high 103 receiving yards against the Giants last week. Lazard has out-snapped fellow receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in three consecutive games. Unfortunately, that role hasn't lent a ton of volume, as his season-high for targets is six. Still, Aaron Rodgers seems to trust him- and he doesn't throw trust around lightly. It's worth noting that each of his three catches from last week went for 20-plus yards, giving him a boom-or-bust outlook. It's best to avoid Lazard this week.

From RotoBaller

Davante Adams Dec 6 10:40pm ET

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams gets a Week 14 matchup with the Washington Redskins. Adams is on a hot streak, with at least seven catches in four straight games and three touchdowns in his last two contests combined. He's been the Packers' undisputed number-one pass catcher this year, with 79 targets in eight games- the next closest is Aaron Jones with 52 in 12 games. That kind of volume makes him a must-start every week and especially against Washington. Like the Giants, the Redskins don't have anyone who can slow Adams down. Start him as a high-end WR1 this week.

From RotoBaller

George Kittle Dec 6 10:30pm ET

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle) needs no introduction for Week 14s matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Pro Football Focus highest-graded tight end since 2006 will be a premium TE1 against a battered Saints linebacking corps on Sunday. Kittle was muted in Week 13s rainy contest but should reemerge as the focal point in the Niners aerial attack in the dome. Despite missing two games and hobbled by a lingering ankle injury, Kittle leads Niners pass-catchers in all relevant metrics and should be treated accordingly this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Tevin Coleman Dec 6 10:20pm ET

San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman needs to prove his worth in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints. Coleman helplessly watched backup Raheem Mostert notch 154 yards and a score in Week 13 as he managed just six touches for 15 yards. The de facto starter has struggled for six straight games, opening the door for a surging Mostert. With Matt Breida (ankle) also expected back in the mix, Coleman is a volatile RB3 against a tough Saints rush defense. Ideally, Coleman is positioned for double-digit touches this Sunday but with the Niners not shy to leverage the hot hand, fantasy managers will hope he capitalizes on his shrinking opportunities.

From RotoBaller

Jamaal Williams Dec 6 9:50pm ET

Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams (knee) draws a great matchup against the Washington Redskins in Week 14. Williams was limited in practice this week but will play on Sunday against the Redskins' 27th-ranked run defense. The 24-year-old has been on a roll, with at least 13 touches and 50 scrimmage yards in each of the last three games. Fellow back Aaron Jones is still "the guy" in Green Bay, though Williams' recent production guarantees him a role. The Redskins have allowed two backs to exceed 50 scrimmage yards five times this year. Jones and Williams are a good bet to make this the sixth time. Start Williams in the flex spot this week.

From RotoBaller

Brandin Cooks Dec 6 8:50pm ET

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks has caught four passes for 56 yards in two games since returning from a concussion. He's still worth holding onto, but he can't be played against the Seattle Seahawks this week.

From RotoBaller

Greg Zuerlein Dec 6 8:50pm ET

Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hasn't had a lot of opportunities lately. He's 6-for-8 in field goals and 7-for-7 in extra points the last four games. The Seattle Seahawks are a midrange matchup, and he's a sketchy low-end kicker this week.

From RotoBaller

Los Angeles Rams Dec 6 8:50pm ET

The Los Angeles Rams Defense has been stout of late with 15 sacks, two fumble recoveries, two picks, a safety and two touchdowns in the last four games. The Seattle Seahawks have allowed opposing defenses the most fantasy points over the last five weeks. They've surrendered two touchdowns, 16 sacks, six fumble recoveries and three picks in the last four games. The Rams Defense is a midrange option to start this week.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Donald Dec 6 8:50pm ET

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald broke free for 1.5 sacks against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13. He now has sacks in six of the last seven games, and the Seattle Seahawks have allowed 16 in the last four. Donald won't offer much outside of that category, but he is a low-end DL1 option this week.

From RotoBaller