We cap off the first week of the fantasy playoffs with an AFC North clash on Monday night. The Cleveland Browns, who have clinched their first winning season since 2007, will host their former iteration in the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens desperately need a win to get back into the AFC playoff race while the Browns will look to keep their sweet season going on Monday night.
– Monday Night Football Preview –
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Ravens (-3) at Browns | Over/Under: 45
Baltimore will make the short 375-mile commute up to Cleveland as a betting favorite for Monday night. Much like last week, this game’s spread has jumped around throughout the week but looks to have settled at the three-point mark. The Ravens had a brief skid, losing four of their first five games after their bye in Week 7 but looked like their old selves last week against Dallas on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see which version we will see on Monday night, especially since they are coming into this game on five days’ rest. Last week Washington was able to spring on an exhausted Pittsburgh team but Vegas does not see the same happening this week, especially when you consider the recent history of these matchups. Baltimore has won both of the last two contests versus the Browns by an average of 24 points so many will expect the Ravens to get out to a large early lead this week. I, however, will be betting on Cleveland and the points this week. The Browns have looked solid in their recent games and have the talent to keep up with Baltimore. Take the Browns and the Over this week.
In what has become a slight revival of the Madden curse, Lamar Jackson has taken a step back from his MVP level season in 2019. Jackson ranks as the QB10 on the season (depending on scoring format) but has been very inconsistent this year. He has had as many weekly finishes outside the top 17 quarterbacks (five) as he has in the top 7 (five), making him less than ideal to start week-to-week. But, due to his star power and unbelievable upside, it is someone you can’t afford to have erupt on your bench, especially as the fantasy playoffs begin. On Monday night, Jackson takes on a familiar with and has dominated recently in Cleveland. In his last three starts against the Browns, he averages 253 passing yards on a 70% completion percentage and three passing touchdowns along with 71 rushing yards on 11 attempts; including Week 1 of this season where he was the QB4. If Jackson can come close to those averages on Monday night, he will be worth starting this week. Cleveland’s secondary got roasted in the second half of last week’s game (allowed 252 passing yards and two touchdowns) so they will be looking for redemption, but Jackson will be ready for his own fantasy salvation. Feel confident in starting Jackson on Monday night.
For fellow third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, he has also shown some stagnation this season that has Browns fans worried if he will be their true quarterback of the future or just another guy on the dreaded list of 30. He has flashed in certain games this season, especially in Weeks 7 and 13, where he was a top-five quarterback on the week (depending on scoring format). But, in almost every other one of his games in 2020, he has been a mediocre fantasy option; averaging as the QB23 in his other contests this season (depending on scoring format). On Monday night, he will try to make a better appearance than he did in Week 1 but will still have a tough task ahead of him towards fantasy relevance in Week 14. Baltimore is the 12th best defense against opposing quarterbacks so far this season and will be a tough foe for Mayfield to overcome. He is too risky to consider streaming this week, especially in the fantasy playoffs. Keep Mayfield on your bench this week.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are one of the most dynamic and talented backfield duos in the NFL. Both players would excel on their own but their combination makes the Browns ground game a near unstoppable force. These results have shown in the fantasy standings as well, with Hunt currently ranked as the RB9 in PPR scoring formats and Chubb being a top 15 running back when he has been healthy this season (Weeks 1-4: RB15 in PPR scoring formats, Weeks 10-13: RB5 in PPR scoring formats). Though the Ravens have been a difficult matchup for opposing running backs this season (Baltimore is 13th in rushing yards allowed and 2nd in rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs through Week 13), those who have Chubb and Hunt should have little doubt about starting their star running backs on Monday night.
When J.K. Dobbins was selected by the Ravens after falling all the way to the 55th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, many wondered what this would mean for the dynamic of a Baltimore backfield that was dominated by a resurgent Mark Ingram in 2019. Dobbins grabbed the limelight quickly, scoring two rushing touchdowns in his debut. He is just one of 20 running backs in NFL history to score at least two rushing touchdowns in his debut, putting him in some pretty elite company:
Despite this electrifying debut, however, Dobbins has yet to take a true hold on the role of top running back for the Ravens. He has had to share snaps with Ingram and young undrafted running back Gus Edwards this season. In fact, Edwards and Ingram are the only running backs to start a game for the Ravens this season despite Dobbins having, on average, the most snaps per game at the position (44% per game). This playing time has made Dobbins the top fantasy running back on the season for Baltimore (ranked RB39 in PPR scoring formats) but he has shared that crown at various points in the season, with Edwards being the top back for Weeks 6-10 (RB29 in PPR scoring formats). It is safe to say this backfield timeshare will continue on Monday night, which puts fantasy owners in a tough spot. Cleveland has been very solid against the run so far this season, being one of 11 teams to have yet to surrender 1000 rushing yards to the position group through Week 13 and have held opposing running backs to weekly finishes outside the top 30 in three of their last four games (James Robinson in Week 12 being the only exception). Based on the matchup and the uncertainty, I would keep all Baltimore running backs on your bench this week with Dobbins having the highest upside if you are looking to play one.
As one of the NFL’s least prolific passing attacks, this has had a direct effect on the Ravens’ wide receiver group. No Baltimore wide receiver is ranked inside the top 40 on the season in PPR scoring formats and has only had three instances of a Ravens wide receiver posting a weekly finish inside the top 16 (Willie Snead in Week 10 and Marquise Brown in Weeks 5 and 12). Brown has been especially disappointing as a fantasy option after many had him projected to have a breakout 2020 season after a solid rookie campaign last year. Brown started the season decently, ranking as the WR30 for Weeks 1-6 with all but one of his games producing at least 9 points (in PPR scoring formats). But, he went on a drastically bad skid for Weeks 8-11, gaining a combined total of 17.5 PPR fantasy points in that timeframe, including a zero-point game in Week 11. He has since recovered nicely with two straight double-digit PPR performances and will look to maintain that momentum on Monday night against the Browns. Cleveland ranks as the sixth-worst defense against fantasy wide receivers through Week 13 and has allowed a top 12 weekly finish in two consecutive games, including the monstrous Corey Davis game last week. I would continue to ride the hot hand of Brown this week and start him Monday night as your WR2/Flex.
In Week 7 when Odell Beckham went down with a season-ending knee injury, many wondered what that would mean for the remaining Cleveland wide receivers and who would help fill the void he created in the offense. For the next few weeks, the entirety of Browns’ passing game took a huge dive. Mayfield failed to throw a touchdown or for more than 205 yards in Weeks 8-11 and no Cleveland wide receiver gained more than 65 yards in a game during that stretch. Things seem to be recalibrated in recent weeks, however, as Jarvis Landry has elevated to the WR4 in Weeks 12 and 13 combined with 16 receptions on 21 targets for 205 yards and two touchdowns during that timespan. Week 13 also saw two other wide receivers finish inside the top 20 on the week (Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones), showing this team is moving in the right direction for Monday night. The Ravens have been one of the best defenses against fantasy wide receivers this season (third-best in the league through Week 13) so Landry and company will have a difficult matchup to contend with this week. Landry is the only option worth trusting on Monday night as Higgins and Peoples-Jones have yet to truly shine this season outside of Week 13. Landry should continue to be Mayfield’s top target and security blanket this week and will have a safe enough floor to keep him from completely bottoming out in your lineup. Start Landry on Monday night.
After being one of the premier free agency signings over the offseason, many (including myself) expected Austin Hooper to be a key part of the Cleveland offense. However, he has been a major disappointment from a fantasy perspective for the majority of the season. Hooper has had multiple stretches of this season where he ranked outside of the top 25 tight ends in PPR scoring formats (Weeks 1-3 he was the TE36 and Weeks 10-13 he was the TE26). In fact, Hooper had nearly the statistics during those two stretches combined (15 receptions on 21 targets for 143 yards and one touchdown) as he did during Weeks 4-6 when he was at his best (15 receptions on 23 targets for 143 yards and one touchdown).
He, along with Harrison Bryant and David Njoku, will try to make an impact on Monday night against Baltimore. The Ravens have been okay against tight ends in recent games, allowing at least four receptions and 20 yards to a tight end in their last three games including a seven reception, 54-yard performance to Eric Ebron in Week 12. Despite the upside this matchup provides, Hooper popped up into the injury report on Friday due to a neck issue. Even if Hooper is cleared and is active, he is not someone I would start this week based on his health and his unpredictable role in the Browns offense. Keep him and all other Cleveland tight ends on the bench for Monday night.
Mark Andrews appears to be back on track to play Monday night after being activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week. His return comes at the perfect time, as Andrews will face a Browns team that has been beaten up by tight ends in recent weeks (given up four double-digit tight end performances in PPR scoring during their last three games) and is a team he has personally crushed himself (Andrews averaged 21 fantasy points in PPR scoring formats in his last three appearances versus Cleveland). Assuming he is fully active and good to go for Monday night, Andrews will be an elite option this week at the tight end position on Monday night.
The Ravens are continuing their trend of being a top-tier D/ST in 2020, ranking inside the top five in a majority of leagues for the fourth year in a row. They have been among the league leaders in important D/ST categories and will look to have another big game versus Cleveland on Monday night, just like they did in Week 1. While the Browns have averaged 30 points in their last three games, they have also surrendered at least one turnover and 1.5 sacks per game in that same span. Baltimore will once again be one of the best D/ST units to play this week and will excel on Monday night.
One of the most surprising D/ST units this season has been the Browns, who are ranked inside the top 12 at this point in the season for the first time in many years. A major factor that has contributed to this swift turnaround is their defense’s new opportune attitude. Cleveland has obtained 20 turnovers through Week 13, one of six teams with 20 or more turnovers in 2020. They have especially been keen on recovering fumbles, being one of four teams with double-digit fumble recoveries so far this season. The Browns will look to spring on a Ravens offense that has been turnover prone as of late. Baltimore has had at least one turnover since Week 8, throwing an interception in Weeks 10-13 and losing fumbles in Weeks 8, 9, and 12. While they have had some upside throughout this season, Monday night will not be the best opportunity for Cleveland’s D/ST. Keep them on your bench/waiver wire this week.
Monday night’s contest will likely be full of features that will make many old football fans blush: running the ball and hard-hitting defense. Both Baltimore and Cleveland are among the most run-heavy offenses in the league and will do their best to keep the ball on the ground and the clock rolling to keep their opponent’s offense on the sideline. The defense that can prevent third downs from constantly becoming first downs will be a huge benefit to their team and could help tip the scale for their team. The Ravens have a distinct advantage in this category and will take the game on Monday night. I see this game going to Baltimore 31-29.