Monday Night Football
Houston @ Cincinnati
Hosting the 3-5 Texans as 10.5-point favorites, the Bengals have an appealing team total of 29 points. ... Even against a Browns defense that can't stop the run, Cincinnati continued to play aggressive passing offense two Thursday nights ago, carving up Cleveland on crossers and intermediate routes while exploiting personnel mismatches with Tyler Eifert. The Bengals are playing three-wide, shotgun-heavy offense after being an I-formation, power-running team in 2014. The successful schematic shift has played a major role in Andy Dalton's breakout year and Giovani Bernard's increased effectiveness. On Monday night, Dalton will face a Texans pass defense that ranks 17th in DVOA with a 16:6 TD-to-INT ratio allowed. This year's No. 3 overall quarterback in fantasy points per game, Dalton is a top-shelf QB1. ... On paper, Week 9 versus Cleveland seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Bengals to "get Jeremy Hill going" on a high volume of carries and run the ball with power. Instead, Gio and Hill rotated drives evenly with Bernard handling virtually every third-down play. Hill will remain involved in the offense, but it's quite clear Gio is a superior fit for Cincinnati's pass-oriented attack, and that the Bengals are committed to playing that style of offense. Gio is a quality RB2/flex option in PPR leagues. Even in a plus draw versus a Houston defense generously submitting 4.43 yards per carry to opposing running backs, Hill can't be trusted as more than a low-floor, touchdown-dependent RB2.
Dalton's target distribution since the Bengals' Week 7 bye: A.J. Green 23; Eifert 14; Marvin Jones 11; Mohamed Sanu 6; Gio 4; Hill 1. ... Getting sub-par cornerback play while enduring repeated benchings at safety, Houston dished out receiving lines of 5-83-2 (Jarvis Landry), 6-77-2 (Andre Johnson), 6-86-1 (Allen Robinson), 3-75-1 (Rishard Matthews), 8-87 (Bryan Walters), and 5-88 (T.Y. Hilton) in four games prior to its Week 9 bye. When the Bengals visited the Texans in Week 12 last season, Green shredded Romeo Crennel's defense for a 12-121 number despite playing through a debilitating toe injury. Green will run most of his Week 9 routes at up-and-down Texans rookie RCB Kevin Johnson. ... In a mammoth breakout year, Eifert is on pace for a 74-868-18 receiving line through eight games. The Texans are only 16th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but they did cough up 6-106-2 to Travis Kelce in Week 1, 6-70 to Greg Olsen in Week 2, 7-78-1 to Julius Thomas in Week 6, and 8-80 to Titans tight ends in Week 8. Eifert's ceiling is always massive, and I'd be comfortable with his floor this week. ... Jones' capability of going off in a given week is never in doubt, but his usage cooperates inconsistently. He's topped six targets just three times and has finished under 50 yards in half of his games. On Monday night, Jones will predominately run routes at LCB Johnathan Joseph, who has been Houston's top cover corner. I don't think it's a great week to bet on Jones.
Houston returns from its bye week as a 10.5-point road dog with a team total of 18.5 points. ... Alfred Blue operated as the Texans' lead runner before the open date, logging 19 touches on 50% of Houston's snaps in Week 8 against Tennessee. Chris Polk was second in line, playing 23% of the downs with nine touches. Passing-down specialist Jonathan Grimes wasn't needed much (27%, two touches) as the Texans controlled the game against a non-competitive, Zach Mettenberger-quarterbacked Titans team, ultimately winning 20-6. If Houston does play this one from behind as the Vegas line suggests they will, Grimes could end up leading the corps in usage. Even against a mediocre Bengals run defense submitting 4.94 yards per carry to enemy RBs, lead back Blue will be a dangerously low-floor RB2/flex play. ... Due to solid, consistent cornerback play and a formidable pass rush, Cincinnati's defensive strength is versus the pass. Whereas the Bengals rank 17th in run-defense DVOA, they are 11th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense metric and fifth in the league in sacks (23) with a 10:8 TD-to-INT ratio allowed. This is a better spot to tee up Cincinnati's D/ST than to stream Brian Hoyer.
In addition to Monday night's tough draw against Cincinnati's stout secondary, the return of slot man Cecil Shorts is concerning for Nate Washington's outlook. Washington has played in five games this year. His receiving lines with Shorts inactive are 9-127-2 and 4-74-1. Washington's numbers are 4-42-0, 3-63-0, and 6-105-0 with Shorts playing. Meanwhile, Shorts' stats are 4-57-0, 6-34-0, and 6-58-0 with Washington active versus 6-87-1 and 4-63-0 with Washington out. Role players fighting for looks behind DeAndre Hopkins, Washington and Shorts are both low-end WR3 options whose fantasy prospects hinge greatly on Houston falling behind on the scoreboard and racking up comeback-driven passes. ... Hopkins' matchup also isn't ideal, but coach Bill O'Brien's consistent movement of "Nuk" all over the formation sets up Hopkins for success even in difficult draws. The Bengals use their cornerbacks on a stationary basis, with Pacman Jones always at right corner, Leon Hall in the slot, and Dre Kirkpatrick on the left side. Kirkpatrick is Cincinnati's corner to target, ranking 109 among 111 qualifiers in PFF's grades. Hopkins will spend roughly 40% of Monday night's game lined up across from Kirkpatrick.
Score Prediction: Bengals 27, Texans 17