Thursday Night Football: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Quarterback – Cleveland took an early lead over Baltimore before predictably blowing it late in their first meeting this season, but I wouldn’t expect this game to stay competitive. As 10-point road dogs with an unsightly 17.75 implied team total, it is hard to love anyone from the Browns this week, including Cody Kessler. Sure, Kessler has been better than expected as Cleveland’s starter, but that does not mean he has played especially well, and it definitely does not mean he is a fantasy option. The 0-9 Browns are playing on short rest away from home in what should be a low-scoring affair. Keep your distance.
Running Back – Baltimore ranks first overall in run defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders. Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 134 yards on 51 carries over his last five starts (2.6 YPC), and that trend of awful running should continue on Thursday. He has zero appeal in any format, including GPPs. The Ravens haven’t performed quite as well against pass-catching running backs, but Duke Johnson Jr. simply cannot trusted. If forced to choose between one of the two, Johnson would be the play, but only because Cleveland will be forced to throw when they go down early. He is still a low-upside option in an offense that should struggle to move the football all night long.
Wide Receiver – Matchup is almost irrelevant when it comes to Terrelle Pryor, as he’ll continue to see big volume every week. Pryor seems to lead the league or at least compete for the league lead in missed opportunity yards each week, as his volume will not always translate into fantasy production, but still, we can’t ignore the targets. Corey Coleman’s return will continue to cut into Pryor’s production, however with Baltimore ranking 27th against WR-1s and 3rd against WR-2s, Pryor should remain in GPP consideration. With this being a Thursday night game, the appropriate move would be to fade the Browns altogether with Pryor as the only semi-palatable option if you must have someone from Cleveland.
Tight End – Gary Barnidge went his ninth straight week without a touchdown, yet this time he garnered only three targets in the process. It has been a disappointing season for last year’s breakout tight end, and nothing should change on Thursday against a Ravens team that ranks first against the position (Football Outsiders). The return of WR Corey Coleman also won’t do anything to pad his fantasy totals, as Barnidge was relying on seven-plus targets per game to post serviceable numbers.
Defense/Special Teams – Nothing to see here, fellas. The Ravens own a whopping 27.75 implied team total, and the Browns’ defense has finished with four or fewer fantasy points in all but one week this season. You’ll definitely want to look elsewhere.
Quarterback – Joe Flacco has been highly underwhelming this season, owning a 6:7 TD/INT ratio and an average of 259 passing yards per game. Flacco has thrown one or fewer touchdowns in all but one of his eight starts, yet he has somehow managed to throw multiple interceptions on three separate occasions. It should be noted that Flacco’s only multi-touchdown performance came against the Browns, but Baltimore was playing from behind all day, subsequently forcing Flacco to throw more than usual. Any quarterback who is facing Cleveland will be considered a tournament play, but even this excellent matchup isn’t enough to make Flacco a cash viable option. The Ravens do, however, own an appealing 27.75 team total at home, and Cleveland ranks dead last in pass defense DVOA this season so it would not be shocking if the Baltimore signal-caller finally has a good game, but with just six touchdowns on the year, we can’t really count on it.
Running Back – While week nine was a colossal disappointment for Terrance West, the third-year Towson product wasn’t without his chances. West accounted for 15 of Baltimore’s 25 carries (60%), and three of the five passing targets to running backs in a win over Pittsburgh, but failed to do anything with the opportunities. He should have a much easier time producing on Thursday, though, as Cleveland is allowing the second most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns per game to their opponents. Cleveland has fallen to 29th in run defense DVOA, having coughed up 656 rushing yards and eight touchdowns to opposing rushers over their past four games. West is still a somewhat volatile option, but there is excellent upside in this matchup, and you’ll at least want some exposure in the event that you’re playing the Thursday slate.
Wide Receiver – Joe Flacco has not played well this season, but that hasn’t stopped Mike Wallace from posting solid numbers through his first eight games. Widely considered a boom-or-bust fantasy receiver, Wallace has done his best to quell that notion in 2016, posting double-digit fantasy points in seven of eight games. Despite poor quarterback play, Wallace has retained value at an affordable cost, and is well worth a look in GPPs where his big play ability has additional appeal. Steve Smith returned to action last week, but is a hard player to trust in any format. He’s averaging only 11.5 yards per reception, and owns a very unappealing yards per target average as well. Despite the plus matchup with Cleveland’s 32nd ranked pass defense, this game still feels like a safe cash fade on most fronts, especially with most Baltimore players owning inflated salaries.
Tight End – Thursday will be the battle of the touchdown-less tight ends, as Dennis Pitta has also yet to find the end zone on the season. He’s managed to stay healthy which is an impressive feat in its own right, but Flacco’s inability to convert in the red zone has curbed Pitta’s fantasy production. Pitta does have four red zone targets, though, and if there was ever a time for him to find pay dirt it would be against the Browns. He is a better play on sites that don’t adjust for matchup, as Pitta will not require more than 10 fantasy points in order to be considered a success. This should come as no surprise, but Cleveland ranks dead last in DVOA against the tight end position. Pitta is the top Ravens pass catcher to consider on Thursday, as the opportunity cost is much lower than Wallace.
Defense/Special Teams – Baltimore’s defense will be a highly targeted one in Week 10, as any team possesses value against the Browns. Their inflated price point keeps them from must play territory, but if you can afford to spend up at the position, the Ravens are a comfortable spot to land. Cleveland is averaging fewer than 19 points per game, and that shouldn’t change on Thursday. That being said, the DST position is volatile enough that looking for cheaper teams with upside is generally never a bad idea.