The “Super Bowl bound Browns” will be looking to keep their slim playoff hopes alive this week when they take on the now 1-11 Bengals at home. This game for the Browns and their concentrated offense tilts heavily in their favor against a Bengals team that ranks 30th in DVOA, 31st in yards allowed per game, 24th in points allowed per game, and 22nd in opponent drive success rate, with the one bright spot for this defense being their work in the red zone, where they are allowing the third lowest opponent touchdown rate in the league (behind only the Broncos and 49ers). Unfortunately — as has been the case in most spots against the Bengals this year — things are not exactly what they seem on the surface, as the Bengals face the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league and have allowed only the following notable stat lines through the air:
And while the Bengals have been far more attackable on the ground, this has not been the true smash spot that the Bengals’ reputation seems to lead some to believe — with the list of notable stat lines against the Bengals on the ground lengthy, but with production on this list more “strong” than “slate-winning” given the difficulty teams are having in the red zone in this matchup:
121-0 (12) Breida
83-0 (13) Mostert
76-1 (14) Gore
91-0 (17) DJ
68-1 (8) Edmonds
152-1 (19) Lamar
131-0 (29) Fournette
112-0 (23) Jacobs
98-0 (21) Snell
If simply looking at raw production, this matchup sets up fairly well for a Browns offense that concentrates most of its touches on four key players, with usage broken down as follows ::
>> Nick Chubb :: recent touch counts of 24 // 28 // 24 // 17
>> Kareem Hunt :: 11 // 12 // 10 // 12
>> Odell Beckham :: 5-57-0 // 4-60-0 // 6-84-1 // 3-29-0
>> Jarvis Landry :: 9-97-1 // 4-43-1 // 10-148-2 // 6-76-0
Once price is taken into the equation, however, this spot falls more into the “worth considering” category than the “lock and load” discussion. Chubb is the best bet for a big game, with his locked-in carries and his red zone role (third most carries inside the 10; fifth most carries inside the five) giving him clear paths to an elite score. As a largely yardage-and-touchdown back (only six catches in four games since Hunt returned), he has a clearer shot at producing in spots where the Browns are expected to be playing with a lead — which should be the case here. Given the way that opponents are tilting their offense against the Bengals, Hunt is the player next most likely to produce a price-considered gem, with a role that has had him on the field for 60.1% of the Browns’ snaps the last two weeks, and that should allow him to hit the Bengals on the edges of the defense where they are easiest to attack. Landry has, incredibly, emerged as the alpha in this passing attack, leading this team in both targets (108, to 103 for Beckham) and red zone targets (a massive 16 to seven edge over OBJ) on the year, while out-producing Beckham in every important category. Beckham also, of course, has slate-breaking upside — though he has been more of a “hope it shows up” play than anything resembling a reliable bet. The matchup is not a concern for any of these guys, though volume has been difficult for wide receivers to come by in this matchup (with the Bengals facing the fourth fewest wide receiver targets in football), while Chubb and Hunt have their work cut out for them against their Week 14 prices.
The Browns defense has been middling on the year, ranking 17th in DVOA (23rd against the run; 11th against the pass), while ranking 15th in yards allowed per game, 18th in points allowed per game, and 10th in opponent drive success rate. The Bengals still have an atrocious offensive line, but they are set to return John Ross this week, and they have gotten their run game going in recent weeks as well (with Joe Mixon posting yardage totals on the ground in his last four games of 114 // 86 // 79 // 44), making this a more interesting spot than it might appear on the surface. Mixon has recent carry counts of 17 // 30 // 15 // 18 // 19 and should be in line for 15 to 20 carries in this spot with two or three receptions likely mixed in. He has only slim paths to scoring upside, but he’s an above-average bet for yardage against his salary in this no-longer-awful Bengals rushing attack. The passing attack should focus on Tyler Boyd (target counts in games with Ross of 12 // 10 // 11 // 6), Ross (12 // 8 // 6 // 6), and Auden Tate (10 // 6 in his two games with a featured role alongside Ross). The Browns have been a completely middling pass defense on the year, neither raising nor lowering expectations on a per-attempt basis. They have allowed the following notable stat lines to wide receivers (with breakdowns // big plays a frequent culprit behind these) ::
3-100-0 A.J. Brown
4-81-0 Robby (Falk)
None of the Bengals pass catchers are “likely” to hit — especially with this team carrying the third lowest Vegas-implied team total on the slate; but “none of these players are likely to hit” can be said in most spots on this ugly slate, keeping the Bengals at least in the conversation against a Browns team that lacks discipline and is prone to the occasional breakdown on the back end.
JM’s Interpretation ::
As noted in a couple other spots: on an ugly week like this, it can make sense to embrace uncertainty a bit more fully — allowing others to make “high-confidence guesses,” while acknowledging yourself that there are more guesses than normal on a slate like this, and that by spreading out your guesses you give yourself a better shot at getting things right. As we have talked about all season in spots like this: this doesn’t mean guessing blindly; but if you can find concentrated offenses with potential for a large chunk of the work to flow through one or two players, it can be worth taking some shots. With that in mind, I’m guessing I will have a little bit of Chubb and Hunt exposure in this spot, and I may even branch out into a couple rosters with one of the Browns pass catchers. It also won’t surprise me if I have a bit of Mixon, Ross, or Boyd. Nothing in this game is ultra-attractive on paper — especially when compared to the prices at which these players are available (with the Browns, obviously, the more attractive offense between these two, but with the Browns players carrying price tags far higher than their likeliest range of production). But with this being the case for most spots on this slate, it’s worth keeping an eye on this game and considering sprinkling in a few pieces from this spot throughout your builds this week.
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