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Matchup: Browns @ Bengals

by Evan Silva
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Thursday Night Football

Cleveland @ Cincinnati

Browns-Bengals has a Vegas total of 46 with Cincinnati favored by 11. The Bengals' team total is 28.5 points on Thursday night. ... Jeremy Hill has started each of the Bengals' first seven games, and over the past two has piled up 33 touches compared to Giovani Bernard's 12, with a 55% snap rate to Bernard's 45%. Thursday night sets up as a "Hill Game" against a Browns run defense that ranks 29th in Football Outsiders' DVOA while coughing up 5.00 yards per carry to running backs. In Todd Gurley (19-128-2), Ronnie Hillman (20-111), Justin Forsett (21-121-1), and Chris Johnson (30-109), Cleveland has allowed a 100-plus-yard rusher in four straight games. Although Hill didn't light up the stat sheet (15-60) in last week's win over Pittsburgh, he did look the best he has all year, showing quicker feet and improved short-area burst. Hill is an upside RB2 play in this plum spot. ... Bernard is a dicey RB2/flex in a game where the Bengals seem likelier to pound the Browns into submission rather than play three- and four-wide spread offense. Bernard's fantasy arrow may begin to teeter downward in the winter months, where power football figures to become Cincy's offensive foundation. ... Dalton turned in his year-worst game against the Steelers, but his bigger season-long sample size suggests Dalton should stay locked into fantasy lineups as a mid-range QB1. No. 3 amongst fantasy quarterbacks in per-game scoring, Dalton has a favorable draw against a depleted Browns pass defense that ranks 26th in sacks (13) with a 15:5 TD-to-INT ratio allowed. On the off chance Dalton does play poorly, narrative pushers will surely cite his track record in prime time, where the Red Rifle's career record is 3-11 with a 65.3 passer rating.

Dalton's target distribution this year: A.J. Green 67; Tyler Eifert 48; Marvin Jones 43; Mohamed Sanu 27; Bernard 26; Hill 5. ... Although Green's recent box-score stats against Cleveland are ugly, that's been in large part due to the once-stingy coverage of Joe Haden, who won't play Thursday due to a concussion. Instead, Green will run most of his routes at 32-year-old RCB Tramon Williams, a solid cover man but not imposing for this year's No. 10 wideout in PPR points per game. ... In a game where he figures to see light target volume, Eifert is a mid-range TE1 play against a Browns defense that ranks 16th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Keep in mind Cleveland has faced very little in the way of tight end talent, however, and will be without SS Donte Whitner (concussion) on Thursday night. ... Always a boom-bust WR3 option, Jones has drawn five targets or fewer in 4-of-7 games. Jones would become an every-week WR2 if Green or Eifert missed time. As is, Jones is a low-floor dart throw as a low-volume player in what seems likely to be a run-first game for Cincinnati.

Losers of three straight games and dealing with myriad injuries, the Browns visit Cincinnati as whopping 11-point road dogs with a team total of 17.5 points. The Bengals' fantasy D/ST is one of the top streamer plays of Week 9. ... Nursing ailments to his ribs and throwing shoulder, Josh McCown will be replaced by Johnny Manziel on Thursday night. Manziel played most of the Browns' Weeks 1-2 games, completing 21-of-39 throws (53.8%) for 355 yards (9.10 YPA) with a 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio, five sacks taken, and four fumbles (two lost). Manziel connected with Travis Benjamin on all three of his touchdown passes, good from 54, 60, and 50 yards out. While the box-score stats don't look terrible, and Johnny Football does possess big-play ability, Manziel's tendency to freelance, ruin offensive structure, and tote the ball carelessly make him prone to sacks and turnovers. OC John DeFilippo called Manziel's Week 2 start extremely conservatively, resulting in just 15 pass attempts and three scrambles for one yard. Manziel is a risky two-quarterback play against a Bengals team that ranks 11th in pass-defense DVOA and eighth in sacks (20) with a 9:8 TD-to-INT ratio allowed. ... The biggest loser downgrading from McCown to Manziel may be Duke Johnson, whom Manziel hasn't targeted once among 50 pass attempts this season. Johnson's fantasy value is heavily tied to checkdowns and plays designed for him to catch the football in space. Manziel has little interest in taking what the defense gives him.

The Bengals have struggled to stop the run, but Cleveland's insistence on utilizing Isaiah Crowell and Robert Turbin as rotating early-down grinders prevents either from being a legitimate Week 9 fantasy asset. Since entering the lineup three games ago, Turbin has logged touch totals of 10, 7, and 3. Crowell's touch counts during that span are 13, 8, and 11, and he is averaging 3.24 yards per carry on the year. You'd have to be incredibly desperate to start either on Thursday night. ... Manziel's target distribution on the season: Brian Hartline 11; Andrew Hawkins 10; Benjamin 8; Gary Barnidge and Taylor Gabriel 5; Crowell, Turbin, and Dwayne Bowe 2. ... With concussions expected to render Hartline and Hawkins inactive, the Browns' three-wideout set will likely consist of Benjamin, Bowe, and Gabriel. While Benjamin's number of targets is a big Week 9 concern -- in addition to their quality -- Benjamin's deep-game rapport with Manziel keeps him in play as an upside WR3 option. Benjamin runs a roughly equal number of routes on each side of the formation and will square off plenty with Bengals LCB Dre Kirkpatrick, who has Pro Football Focus' No. 112 coverage grade among 113 qualified cornerbacks. ... Barnidge posted stat lines of 3-38-0 and 1-17-0 with Manziel quarterbacking in Weeks 1-2. "Barnkowski" has earned every-week TE1 treatment, but fantasy owners can't be surprised if he disappoints on Thursday night. At least the matchup won't be an excuse against a Bengals defense yielding the second most catches and eighth most receiving yards in the league to tight ends. Heath Miller rose from the dead to catch 10 balls for 105 yards against Cincinnati last week.

Score Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 13

Evan Silva
Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .