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WR Notes: Hilton, Fuller, Rams, Brown

Hours ahead of a key matchup featuring questions for both teams’ pass-catching situations, let’s take a look at some wide receiver news from around the league:

  • T.Y. Hilton believes he will be given the green light to play in Thursday night’s Colts-Texans game, per James Palmer of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Colts do not have an issue with Hilton playing despite not practicing this week. Indianapolis’ top skill-position talent has missed the past three games with a calf injury. Hilton has dominated during recent games in Houston. In two games there last season, he combined for 14 receptions for 284 yards.
  • Will Fuller will return to action for the Texans tonight, Bill O’Brien said (via ESPN.com’s Ed Werder, on Twitter). Fuller has also missed the past three games, with the Texans deep threat’s absence due to a pulled hamstring.
  • The Rams look set to have their top three receivers back in action Monday. After Sean McVay expressed optimism Brandin Cooks will play against the Ravens, Robert Woods returned to the team on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Woods missed the Rams’ Week 11 game due to a personal matter, leaving Cooper Kupp as Los Angeles’ only starting wideout to play in what became a run-oriented game.
  • Antonio Brown‘s countersuit against accuser Britney Taylor centers on a confidentiality agreement the receiver claims to have signed under duress, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. The free agent wideout claims that during her meeting with the NFL, Taylor refused to waive the agreement — one the twice-released player contends would shed more light on his case against Taylor. Brown’s former acquaintance accused him of sexual assault. A statement from Taylor’s attorney (via Florio) indicates Brown is trying to blame the first of his two accusers for his 2019 actions and that Taylor “will not be bullied.”

NFL Upholds Myles Garrett’s Suspension

Myles Garrett‘s historic suspension will stand. The NFL upheld the indefinite ban handed down to the Browns defensive end. However, Maurkice Pouncey‘s appeal will drop his penalty from three games to two, the league announced Thursday.

Pouncey will still miss the Steelers’ rematch with the Browns, which will occur in Week 13. The NFL also upheld Pouncey’s $35K fine. The 10th-year center will miss out on two game checks but can return for Pittsburgh’s Week 14 game in Arizona. Garrett, however, is done for the regular season and any possible playoff games.

The standout defensive end must apply for reinstatement in the offseason. With Garrett firmly in the defensive player of the year conversation, this guts the Browns, who had won two straight. The league also will fine Garrett $45K. This comes a day after the league upheld Larry Ogunjobi‘s one-game suspension. Ogunjobi will be eligible to play in the AFC North rivals’ rematch next week.

In addition to Garrett’s side arguing that the CBA does not contain precise language stipulating a ban of this nature could occur for an on-field act, they cited Antonio Smith‘s one-game suspension for swinging his helmet at Richie Incognito in 2013. The former No. 1 overall pick also alleged the Steelers quarterback used a racial slur. The Steelers and Rudolph’s attorney deny this. The NFL looked into Garrett’s racially charged accusation and did not find evidence to support the claim, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said (Twitter link).

Of course, Garrett striking Mason Rudolph in the head in a nationally televised game obviously differentiate this sequence from the Smith-Incognito dust-up, which did not involve clear contact. Despite Garrett making the Pro Bowl last season and building an All-Pro-caliber resume leading up to his now-infamous moment, this is certainly the former Texas A&M standout’s defining NFL act to date.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Myles Garrett: Mason Rudolph Used Racial Slur

In his appeal hearing with the NFL, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett alleged that Mason Rudolph used a racial slur towards him in the buildup to the infamous brawl (via ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson and Adam Schefter). Rudolph, meanwhile, denies the accusation. 

Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident Thursday night in Cleveland,” Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said in a statement. “He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.”

Rudolph declined to discuss the matter with reporters, but, later on, his attorney Timothy M. Younger echoed the Steelers’ statement.

According to ESPN, in his appeal, Myles Garrett falsely asserted that Mason Rudolph uttered a racial slur toward him, prior to swinging a helmet at Mason’s uncovered head, in a desperate attempt to mitigate his suspension. This is a lie. This false allegation was never asserted by Garrett in the aftermath of the game, never suggested prior to the hearing, and conspicuously absent in the apology published by the Browns and adopted by Garrett.

“The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Mason’s integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday. This is reckless and shameful. We will have no further comment.”

Appeals officer James Thrash remained stoic as Garrett told his side of the story, sources tell ESPN. Afterwards, Thrash asked Garrett a question about how he might conduct himself differently, if a similar situation were to play out. The defensive end conveyed that he would handle himself differently and would not allow a similar scene to unfold.

Garrett’s camp fought the notion of an indefinite suspension and noted that Texans defensive end Antonio Smith was suspended in 2013 for just two games, plus one regular season game, for swinging his helmet at Richie Incognito in a game against the Dolphins. Garrett and the union also argued that indefinite bans are not permitted under the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bengals Designate CB Darius Phillips For Return

The Bengals have designated CB Darius Phillips to return from injured reserve, the club announced. Phillips was placed on IR at the end of September with a knee injury.

A fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft, Phillips has played in 18 games (one start) for Cincinnati in his brief career. The Western Michigan product has one interception to his name, which he notched in the team’s Week 3 loss to the Bills. He was also used on kickoff returns before going on IR, and he returned six kicks for an average of 22.8 yards per return.

The Bengals rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense, and as the only winless team in football, they might as well see what a young DB like Phillips has to offer, so he could get a fair amount of playing time if he ultimately returns to the field. He will be able to start practicing with the team today, and then Cincinnati will have a 21-day window to determine if it wants to activate him or shut him down for the rest of the season.

Cincinnati recently used its other IR return slot on WR John Ross.

Extra Points: Sanu, Brown, Bears, Lock

The Patriots‘ revolving receiver cast may be set for more adjustments. Mohamed Sanu may well be battling a high ankle sprain, according to Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston. While that is not confirmed, the recent trade acquisition did not practice Wednesday and is listed on New England’s injury report. A high ankle sprain would stand to sideline Sanu for multiple games. The Pats have cycled through numerous receiver combinations this season, with Julian Edelman being the only constant. Phillip Dorsett is in the Pats’ concussion protocol, meaning Edelman’s supporting cast against the Cowboys may be fronted by rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.

Here is the latest from around the NFL, moving first to a player not currently in the league.

  • Antonio Brown launched a countersuit against Britney Taylor, the first of two women to make sexual misconduct claims against the free agent wide receiver. Taylor filed a civil suit against Brown earlier this year, alleging sexual assault, and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports Brown’s case will center around defamation and interference with NFL contract and endorsement opportunities. Brown remains hopeful the NFL will clear him soon; he met with the league last week. But a recent report gave Brown a long-odds chance of playing again this season.
  • Mitchell Trubisky was a full participant at Bears practice Wednesday, despite being removed from Sunday night’s game with a hip injury. Matt Nagy said he does not intend to bench his starter and plans to play him this week against the Giants. “We want him to be out there this week as the starter,” Nagy said, via J.J. Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago. “I’m hoping that’s the case. … These types of injuries, you get to a point where they are literally day to day and it becomes about where you’re at with the pain and how we manage that.”
  • Brandon Allen has helped spark the Broncos‘ offense, but the team would stand to benefit from Drew Lock debuting soon. Vic Fangio added an interesting stance Wednesday, indicating he does not think it’s “vitally important” the rookie passer plays this season, via Mike Klis of 9News. However, the Broncos do plan to activate Lock from IR either next week or in Week 14, per Klis. Denver selected Lock in Round 2 but saw its Joe Flacco investment fail, leading to more uncertainty at a long-troublesome position for the franchise. The Broncos could again be linked to top quarterbacks in the 2020 draft, just as they were in 2018 and ’19.
  • One of the Falcons‘ IR-return slots will go toward a punter. Longtime punter Matt Bosher returned to practice, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com notes (on Twitter). Atlanta’s ninth-year punter cannot return to action until Week 13.
  • After placing fullback Nick Bawden on IR, the Lions worked out several fullbacks. Tommy Bohanon, Derrick Coleman, Tre Madden, Aaron Ripkowski auditioned for the Lions, per Sirius XM’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter).

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/20/19

Here are Wednesday’s practice squad decisions:

Arizona Cardinals

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Giants

  • Signed: DB Derrick Baity

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/20/19

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves:

Chicago Bears

  • Promoted from practice squad: TE Jesper Horsted

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Miami Dolphins

Poll: Which AFC .500-Or-Worse Team Has Best Chance At Playoff Berth?

Once again, the NFC has presented more depth this season. Two current non-division-leading teams have eight wins, raising the floor for what it will take to bring road whites to a postseason game in that conference. The AFC has a few obvious contenders, but several teams can be included on “In the hunt” graphics despite .500-or-worse records.

Prior to seeing the Colts start 1-5 and make the playoffs last season, the AFC saw the 1-5 2015 Chiefs go 11-5. This season may not feature a second-half surge on that level, but the conference has a few teams occupying its middle class that are not yet building for the future.

If the season ended today, two teams in the 6-4 Colts-Texans-Raiders contingent would make the playoffs. But the Titans (5-5), Steelers (5-5), Browns (4-6) and Jaguars (4-6) are still technically in the race. Of the 163 teams to start 4-6 in the six-team playoff era (1990-present), only 13 (8%) made the playoffs. That number jumps up to 29% (40-for-138) for 5-5 teams.

Tennessee, which benched Marcus Mariota during a 16-0 shutout loss in Denver, has rallied under Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphins starter has completed 71% of his passes and has helped the Titans to wins in three of his four starts. The Titans rank fourth in run-defense DVOA but among these fringe contenders sport the lowest overall DVOA ranking (23rd), though some of that stems from Mariota’s starts. Tennessee is also this quartet’s only team with a positive point differential at plus-6. (The Raiders, for reference, have a minus-25 differential.) The Titans close their season with five winning teams on their schedule — by far the toughest among this group.

The Steelers and Browns each play two teams with winning records apiece down the stretch. Neither has presented a particularly formidable passing attack, the latter’s struggles representing one of this season’s biggest surprises given Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry being on Baker Mayfield‘s side. An offense-geared team for the past several years, Pittsburgh ranks third in defense DVOA and 28th offensively. But will the T.J. Watt– and Minkah Fitzpatrick-powered unit be enough to aid Mason Rudolph (31st in Total QBR) to any kind of relevant stretch run? The Browns have won two straight and have three games left against the Bengals and Dolphins, but Freddie Kitchens‘ team has proven to be unreliable and undisciplined. And that was with former defensive player of the year candidate Myles Garrett, who is likely out for the season’s remainder.

Although the Jaguars may look like the longest-odds team here, they outflank each of these mid-pack outfits with a No. 16 DVOA ranking. Most of that work came with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, but three of the Jags’ wins came against the Bengals, Jets and Broncos. Jacksonville also has yielded 200-plus rushing yards on three occasions, undercutting D.J. Chark‘s breakout season and Leonard Fournette‘s bounce-back effort somewhat. But Jacksonville also faces just two teams with winning records (Oakland, Indianapolis) down the stretch. Nick Foles also has a notable history of late-season rallies.

With the Bills already 7-3 and the Raiders playing just one team with a winning record the rest of the way, this year’s AFC might be feature a thinner playoff pursuit. But which of these aforementioned teams has the best chance of staying in the playoff race well into December? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts on this year’s playoff race in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: JuJu, Glenn, Browns

With JuJu Smith-Schuster dealing with a knee injury in addition to the concussion he sustained last week, the Steelers are expected to hold him out of Sunday’s game against the Bengals, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. However, the third-year standout is not expected to miss much time. Smith-Schuster has not missed a game since December 2017. The Steelers are not certain to have Diontae Johnson on the field in Cincinnati either, with the rookie also in concussion protocol. For a team that has featured at least one Pro Bowl-caliber wideout in its lineup for many years, given Antonio Brown‘s presence, Sunday will be an adjustment without one.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • On the other side, Cordy Glenn is on track to make his 2019 debut. The Bengals have needed to use their third and fourth options at left tackle this season, with Glenn battling a severe concussion since August. But Zac Taylor confirmed the eighth-year tackle is ready to return, per the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay. Glenn is not certain to start, however. It would certainly help Cincinnati’s cause. Last week, Maxx Crosby recorded four sacks — tied for the second-most a rookie has ever registered in a game — and did most of the damage against guard-turned-tackle John Jerry.
  • The Browns designated David Njoku to return from IR earlier Wednesday. The third-year tight end is eligible to return at any point. Although Njoku was not initially planning to have surgery, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes (via Twitter) he did end up undergoing a procedure. Njoku totaled 639 receiving yards last season and will stand to help a Browns team clinging to fringe contention hopes after winning two straight games.
  • The NFL would prefer to have the Myles Garrett appeal process sorted out quickly, and ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini notes the league is targeting a decision by Thursday or Friday (Twitter link). NFL appeals officer James Thrash heard the appeal earlier Wednesday.
  • Garrett’s camp mounted a two-front case, first arguing the CBA does not contain language allowing for a six-game suspension for an on-field act and second citing the 2013 Antonio Smith incident, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). The then-Texans defensive lineman ripped off Richie Incognito‘s helmet during a game and swung it at him. While Garrett’s act was far more extreme, and occurred in front of a national audience and in a more safety-conscious NFL time, his side is hoping for a reduced suspension. Smith was banned for two preseason games and one regular-season game. Roger Goodell‘s previous comments on Garrett do not suggest leniency is coming, however.

NFL Upholds Larry Ogunjobi’s Suspension

While the outcome of Myles Garrett‘s appeal is not yet known, the Browns will be without Larry Ogunjobi against the Dolphins on Sunday.

The NFL upheld the one-game suspension it handed down to the third-year Cleveland defensive tackle. Ogunjobi was suspended for his role in the game-ending melee against the Steelers, which featured him shoving Mason Rudolph to the ground after the quarterback and Garrett got into it.

The verdicts on Garrett and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will not emerge until later this week, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Garrett received an indefinite suspension that is expected to end his season, while Pouncey is slated to be out three games for his role in the fight. The league did rescind Ogunjobi’s $10K fine, however.

While Garrett’s absence will overshadow it, the loss of Ogunjobi will certainly affect the Browns. The ex-Day 3 pick has five sacks, a half-sack shy of his career high. He dropped Rudolph during last week’s game.

With Garrett and Ogunjobi sidelined, it’s possible the Browns have just one defensive line starter available Sunday. Olivier Vernon missed the past two games with a knee injury. A third straight absence would leave only Sheldon Richardson in place up front.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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