Thursday Night Football
Cleveland @ Baltimore
Vegas Projected Score: Ravens 27.5, Browns 17.5
Whopping ten-point home favorites on Thursday night, the Ravens’ offense has a best-case scenario matchup against a Browns team that ranks No. 32 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 29 in run-defense DVOA and has been flamed for AFC highs in passer rating (106.9) and touchdown passes (22). Dak Prescott (3), Andy Dalton (2), Marcus Mariota (3), Tom Brady (3), Kirk Cousins (3), Ryan Tannehill (3), Joe Flacco (2), and Carson Wentz (2) have all thrown for multiple TDs against the Browns this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick (1) is the lone opposing quarterback who’s failed to accomplish the feat. The catch, of course, is that Flacco has been atrocious all season, posting top-15 quarterback results in just 1-of-8 games. The good news is Flacco had his best game of the year against these same Browns in Week 2, and Flacco is drawing the NFL’s softest pass defense at home on a short week with a healthy pass-catcher corps. Cleveland gets minimal up-front pressure, ranking 27th in the NFL in sacks (14) and 26th in quarterback hits (38). With Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor all on byes, many fantasy owners need quarterback help. It won’t feel comfortable, but Flacco is one of the top streamers on the board this week. … Just as beatable on the ground, the Browns have permitted an AFC-high 31.6 rushing attempts per game and a combined 96-577-7 (6.01 YPC) rushing line to enemy backs over the past three weeks. Although the Ravens’ backfield has devolved into a committee, Terrance West did log team highs in snap rate (42%) and touches (16) in last week’s win over Pittsburgh. Rookie Kenneth Dixon handled 11 touches on 29% of the downs. Both backs have been ineffective in consecutive tough matchups with the Jets and Steelers, but West remains the lead back and has been Baltimore’s best runner over the course of the year. The matchup makes West worthy of an RB2 play in season-long leagues. Dixon has gained a putrid 29 yards on 20 touches this season and is a dangerously low-floor shot in the dark.
Flacco’s targets in Steve Smith Sr.’s five full games: Smith 44; Mike Wallace 34; Dennis Pitta 32; Breshad Perriman 20; Kyle Juszczyk 13; Kamar Aiken 10; West 9. … Smith played 87% of Baltimore’s snaps and led the team in targets (7) in his Week 9 return. Running nearly half of his routes in the slot this year, Smith has a plus matchup against a Browns secondary that has been torched by slot men Cole Beasley (6-56-1), Quincy Enunwa (4-93-1), Kendall Wright (8-133-1), Jarvis Landry (7-120-1), and Jordan Matthews (7-114-1). There is a possibility Smith will be shadowed by Joe Haden, although Haden gave up Beasley’s touchdown last week and plays only 10% of his snaps in the slot. Haden played left corner only when these teams met in Week 2. Smith still beat him for 31- and 14-yard gains. … Wallace emerged from Week 2 with 4-41-2 receiving, scoring once in Haden’s coverage and again on RCB Jamar Taylor, who is now injured and will be replaced by UDFA rookie Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Wallace is the Ravens’ best deep target, and only two teams have permitted more 20-plus-yard completions than the Browns (36). … Pitta disappointed (2-14-0) last week against Pittsburgh, but he played a season-high 83% of the snaps and should have every opportunity to rebound in the best-possible matchup for tight ends. Not only did Pitta toast Cleveland (9-102) in Week 2, but Jason Witten (8-134-1), Rob Gronkowski (5-109), Martellus Bennett (6-67-3), Jordan Reed (9-73-2), and Zach Ertz (6-58) have delivered against the Browns as well. Pitta has drawn eight or more targets in five of his last seven games. … Perriman’s snaps dipped to 50% with Smith back against the Steelers, while Aiken logged a 59% clip. Together, sub-package receivers Perriman and Aiken have combined for zero touchdowns and one game above 60 yards on the year.
Cody Kessler has played four games start to finish this season, turning in weekly fantasy results of QB26, QB24, QB9, QB21. A Chad Pennington-style passer, Kessler has exceeded expectations with reliable ball location and decision making but hasn’t been useful in fantasy. The Ravens rank No. 11 in pass-defense DVOA and are allowing the NFL’s seventh fewest passing yards per game (222.6). Kessler is a low-end two-QB-league option on Thursday night. … Fresh after their Week 8 bye, the Ravens’ defensive front erased the Steelers’ running game in last week’s upset win, holding Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams to a combined 15-33-0 (2.20 YPC) rushing line. On the season, Baltimore ranks No. 1 in run-defense DVOA and is permitting just 3.41 yards per carry to enemy backs. The Browns’ interior running game has come unhinged since losing LG Joel Bitonio (Lisfranc) with Isaiah Crowell averaging 2.63 yards per carry and just 12.6 touches per game over the past five weeks. Although he broke off a fluky, un-touched 85-yard touchdown sprint when these clubs met in Week 2, Crowell would be hard to trust in a fantasy league in this matchup. … Passing-game specialist Duke Johnson’s skill set would seem to offer a more reasonable way to attack Baltimore’s defense out of the backfield. The Ravens have allowed the NFL’s tenth most running back receptions (43). Johnson has cleared 40 receiving yards in just 1-of-6 Kessler starts, however. Always a poor bet for touchdowns, Johnson has hit pay dirt once all season and has just three red-zone targets and five red-zone carries. Johnson is a low-end flex play specific to PPR leagues.
Kessler's targets with Corey Coleman back last week: Terrelle Pryor and Coleman 7; Crowell and Andrew Hawkins 4; Gary Barnidge 3; Johnson 2. … Pryor has stat lines of 8-144-0, 5-46-1, 9-75-2, 5-74-1 in his four full games with Kessler, while the Ravens have allowed the NFL’s second most touchdowns (14) to wide receivers. It should be noted that Pryor managed 3-32-0 receiving against Baltimore with Josh McCown quarterbacking in Week 2. He was not shadowed by Ravens No. 1 CB Jimmy Smith, however, and Pryor has improved noticeably as a route runner since the first two games of the season. … Coleman went off (5-104-2) in Week 2, mostly dusting since-demoted LCB Shareece Wright but also beating Smith for an 11-yard touchdown. In his Week 9 return from a broken hand, Coleman tied Pryor for the team lead in targets and logged 91% of the snaps. As Coleman and Pryor are both strictly boundary receivers who frequently switch sides, they will take turns running routes at RCB Smith and LCB Tavon Young, a fourth-round rookie out of Temple. I like Pryor as an every-week WR2 play in season-long leagues and Coleman as a WR3 option with some upside. … Barnidge has the toughest matchup in Cleveland’s pass-catcher corps against a Ravens defense that yields the NFL’s fourth fewest yards (290) to tight ends and hasn’t allowed a tight end touchdown all season. Barnidge’s stat lines in Kessler’s four full games are 5-66-0, 7-57-0, 3-59-0, 3-23-0. Notable tight ends contained by the Ravens include Jordan Reed (8-53-0), Charles Clay (2-40-0), Julius Thomas (2-13-0), Jesse James (2-13-0), and Barnidge (4-37-0) himself.
Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Browns 20