Thursday Night Football Preview
Browns @ Ravens – 10
Like something out of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, AFC North matchups tend to be more dark and hard hitting than others. The ferociousness of the games has the AFC North looking like a modern day black and blue division. The hard hits and smash mouth football will be on full display this Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens welcome in the winless Cleveland Browns. The Ravens are sitting with a 4-4 record and are a big hometown favorite with the spread sitting at ten and an over under of forty-five.
At 4-4, The Ravens currently hold the tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the North. They gained that tiebreaker after holding off the Steelers in the fourth quarter of a week 9 battle that had the Ravens winning 21-14. The victory was due in large part to a strong defensive showing and Joe Flacco throwing for 241 yards including a ninety-five-yard score to Mike Wallace. Not to take a division opponent lightly, Flacco on paper has a nice matchup coming up with the Browns. The winless Browns to no surprise are one of the worst in the league against the pass and Flacco has had more touchdowns (21) over his career against the Browns than any other team. Things may get even easier for him when considering that Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor has been dealing with a groin injury that may limit him in this short week. The Browns other cornerback Joe Haden will be a full go and it will be interesting to see who he lines up against. It will either be the Ravens leading wide receiver in targets Mike Wallace or the veteran Steve Smith. It was Smith who was leading Ravens wide receivers in the first four weeks with 24 catches and 281 yards receiving before missing two games with an ankle injury. The five-time pro bowler must have been missed by his quarterback as last week in his return Smith led all Ravens in targets with seven.[the_ad id=”66786″]It isn’t all about Smith and Wallace though as they account for just two of the six Ravens pass catchers with 25 targets or more. Dennis Pitta is also one of those six as he is second on the team in targets and only one of two tight ends with 60 or more targets. He has hauled in forty of those targets for 349 yards but still no touchdowns. Not only has Pitta not scored this season, but he also hasn’t crossed the goal line since December of 2013. This week is as good a week as any for Pitta to break that streak as the Browns have given up 8 touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Terrance West has without a doubt has been the Ravens leading ball carrier as the man with the second most carries isn’t even on the team’s roster anymore. West has had a tough go of it the last two weeks facing some stiff competition with the Jets and the Steelers.
The Browns can cure all running back woes though as they are only one of two teams to give up 1,000 rushing yards or more this season. The defense is led by Terrell Suggs who is currently the team leader in sacks with five. Another defensive player to keep an eye on is linebacker C.J Mosley. The former Alabama linebacker leads the Ravens in interceptions with three and is one of six players with twenty or more tackles (26).
The Browns find themselves as the only team in football without a win and that is due in large part to their defense. No team has given up more than the 273 points surrendered by the Browns. What might surprise some folks is that the winless Browns have scored fourteen more points than their division leading Thursday night opponent. The Browns quarterbacks have looked like the walking wounded with six players total throwing a pass for the Browns this year, but the fans can only hope that Cody Kessler could provide some stability. Kessler is expected to play despite a right leg injury and will look to improve upon some fairly impressive numbers. In games that Kessler has thrown nineteen or more passes he has thrown for over two hundred yards in all of them. On top of that, he also has thrown for a total of five touchdowns and just one interception. His primary target is the silver lining to the Browns season and quite possibly comeback player of the year material, Terrelle Pryor. The former Heisman Trophy winner is leading the Browns in receptions (46), receiving yards (579), and touchdowns (4). He will look to have a better performance than when the Browns played the Ravens in week two as he caught just three of his ten targets for 32 yards.[the_ad id=”67608″]
The talent within the Browns offense isn’t limited to just one man and they’ll need all hands on deck to keep up with the Ravens. Last week saw the return of rookie wideout Corey Coleman who saw seven targets but only ended up hauling in three of them. Look for him to receive the same sort of attention from Kessler as well as tight end Gary Barnidge. The Browns tight end had seven straight weeks of five or more targets until last week when he saw just three. Barnidge may have a tougher time than the wide receivers as the Ravens have been more than solid against the tight end. The Ravens are giving up an average of around four receptions and just 31.5 yards per game to tight ends and on top of that have not given up a touchdown. The Ravens defense will also need to give some attention to the Browns backfield that has had a duo of players contributing via the run and the pass.
Isaiah Crowell has been leading the way on the ground with 528 yards rushing this year along with 5 rushing touchdowns. Last week was a quiet game for Crowell who had just six carries which was likely due to the Browns getting down early to the Cowboys. As the Browns continue to spread the field that may open things up for the teams leading rusher. The other half of that duo and contributing through the air is the second year back Duke Johnson. Non-existent in the running game, Johnson has found a way to be productive through the passing game and that is evident as he is fourth in the league among running backs in receiving yards (313). It is ironic that given his receiving yards and thirty-six receptions that his only touchdown this year has been via the running game.
The Ravens might be playing a winless team but they should not sleep on the Browns. As far as predictions are concerned, I would love to tell you that this is the game that the Browns will get their first win of the season but I just don’t see it. It isn’t a negative reflection on the Browns as much as it is an acknowledgment that the Ravens as a whole are better than their 2015 season would suggest. The Ravens are one of the more well-rounded teams in the league this season and I think that is a tall task for any team much less a winless one. I think this game will have the hard hits that we have come to know and love in the AFC North, but I do like the over and for the Ravens to be on the better end of it.
My Prediction: Ravens 31 Browns 27
Fantasy Thoughts & Tips
If my final score prediction tells you anything, it should tell you that I believe that this could be a productive fantasy day for some of you. Joe Flacco loves playing against the Browns and on Thursday night. In his seven Thursday night contests, he has won five of them while throwing for 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions. If you own him, then I suggest that you start him. I like Cody Kessler in this one, but unless you’re in a bye week predicament, I don’t know that you want to start him in a one quarterback format. If we are talking about two QB formats, I like what he has to offer. I’m envisioning another performance of over two hundred yards and a score or two. I like Terrance West more than any other running back in this matchup. I think West will get back in the good graces of his owners as the Browns have given up the second-most points to running backs this season. Giving up over a thousand yards and a dozen touchdowns is too hard to ignore. West will put up RB1 type numbers this Thursday. As for the Browns, I think Duke Johnson deserves some flex consideration in mainly PPR formats. Beyond a format that allows points per reception, I would be looking for other options and with the Ravens allowing the fewest points to opposing backs I don’t like the idea of starting Crowell. I’m getting to the point where I’m considering Pryor a must start every week. He has played against the likes of Josh Norman and has produced. He is the most talented player on that offense right now and with the Ravens allowing the sixth-most points to wide receivers I consider him a no doubt start.[the_ad id=”58837″]I’ll admit that Mike Wallace has made me look foolish this year. I never believed in the production but it is hard to ignore especially after his 95-yard score last week. I would be starting him this week but I would keep an eye on Steve Smith as he reasserts himself back into this offense. As previously mentioned, Smith was leading in a lot of Ravens pass catching categories before getting injured and I don’t think it will take long for Flacco to make Smith a focal point of the offense again. That could ultimately eat into Wallace’s production, but I like them both here. Corey Coleman is a sneaky guy to keep an eye in the sense that he could start to build some momentum after his injury. In the games in which he has played, he has never had less than five targets. The Ravens have given up the second most touchdowns to wide receivers this year with 14 so giving some flex consideration to the rookie isn’t the worst idea. As previously discussed, The Browns have been abysmal against the tight end so I would start Dennis Pitta without hesitation. I’m going to use this platform to declare that his touchdown drought will come to an end. In regards to whom you should not start I would put Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and the two defenses as ill-advised moves. [the_ad id=”65749″]
Good luck this Thursday folks!
Mike is a hardcore fantasy football fan. He has been doing serious writing for a couple of years now and loves finding the next big sleeper that no one is talking about. He also isn’t afraid to go against the grain and predict the next big bust. The fantasy community is as strong as ever and Mike is ready to help you win a title!