BROWNS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
The Broncos have all but fallen out of the playoff hunt — and much like the Bengals a few weeks ago, any glimmer of hope that remains to this team feels more theoretical than anything. With a decimated secondary, no Demaryius Thomas, and no Emmanuel Sanders, Denver is running on fumes. On Saturday night, they will host a red hot Browns team that has won three of their last four (winning two of those games decisively), and that looks like a team on the rise with one of the most well-designed offenses and one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league. The Broncos opened this game as modest four point favorites, and were quickly bet down to -3.0. This game carries an early-week Over/Under of 45.5 — four points higher than the game being played earlier in the day.
BROWNS PASS OFFENSE
The Broncos’ secondary is a mess right now, with Bradley Roby allowing an ungodly 15.2 yards per reception on the year (with six touchdowns allowed to only one interception, and with a 118.5 quarterback rating on throws into his coverage), and with third-round rookie Isaac Yiadom not yet ready for the NFL game, with 12.9 yards allowed per reception himself (along with two touchdowns and a 115.5 QB rating allowed in his limited time on the field). This week, the Broncos will be taking on what has become one of the more creatively-schemed offenses in the NFL, led by a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who has completed 74.8% of his passes across his last four games, with a TD : INT ratio of 9 : 3, and with an incredible 10.0 yards per pass attempt (on the year, Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL in yards per pass attempt at 8.9). The only thing that has held Mayfield back lately has been volume, as this team has kept him to 26 or fewer pass attempts in three of his last four games (all of which were wins). The only time he topped 26 pass attempts was two weeks ago when the Browns were chasing points in Houston.
Frustratingly from a DFS perspective: this low-volume passing attack continues to spread the ball around, with no pass catcher reliably seeing even five targets per game. The closest this team has given us to “reliability” is the tandem of Jarvis Landry and David Njoku. During this four-game hot streak for the Browns’ passing attack, target counts for these two have looked like this:
:: Landry — 5 // 5 // 9 // 4
:: Njoku — 1 // 5 // 6 // 4
Landry continues to be used primarily on underneath routes, keeping his floor bone bare (in Weeks 10 and 12 he failed to top even 30 yards; in Week 14, he produced a 2-6-0 line outside of the beautiful 51-yard bomb that Mayfield threaded through coverage to Landry in the end zone). Consider Landry a low-floor, solid-ceiling play.
The Broncos are sure to focus on fixing the communication issues that led to George Kittle running wide open so often last week, which should turn them back into the middling matchup they have been for tight ends all year. Njoku will likely need a touchdown in order to stand out on this slate — though tight end is ugly enough on the two-gamer that he is obviously in the conversation.
Behind these guys, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and Breshad Perriman continue to offer low floors and modest ceilings. Callaway is the best bet for a big play — though as he showed last week (one catch for zero yards on a single target), his floor is not at all guaranteed.
BROWNS RUN OFFENSE
If we take away the 43 carries for 427 yards that Crowell and Gurley pasted the Broncos for in back-to-back weeks midway through the season, this team has allowed only 3.92 yards per carry to running backs. This creates a tough spot for Nick Chubb on the ground — though Chubb has benefitted lately from elite usage, with touch counts since the Carlos Hyde trade of 18 // 20 // 23 // 23 // 31 // 12 // 17. With Duke Johnson disappearing lately (seven total touches across his last three games), Chubb has recent target counts of 3 // 3 // 3 // 6, making him a volume-based bet on this slate. The matchup lowers his floor; the usage keeps his ceiling intact.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
Cleveland has been strong against the pass this year, impressively shaving 4.9% off the league-average aDOT while shaving 5.1% off the league-average catch rate. This has led to the Browns ranking ninth in yards allowed per pass attempt — and with the third most interceptions in the league, this has been a unit for opposing passing attacks to avoid. Look for the Broncos to lean run-heavy in this spot for as long as they can (Denver has a pass play rate of only 53.59% across their last three games — which would rank 28th in the NFL — while Cleveland ranks 22nd in opponent pass play rate), though Mayfield and the Browns’ passing attack should eventually nudge Denver toward the air.
This attack gets a bit easier to sort out if Denzel Ward gets cleared in time for this game, as Ward would trail Courtland Sutton for much of the game — making Sutton nothing more than a “bet on broken play or touchdown” option, while opening a few more guaranteed looks for Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton. (If Ward misses, on the other hand: Sutton’s chances of reaching his upside will grow a bit, though he will still carry the same poor-connection-with-quarterback caveat he has carried all season; if Ward misses, it will also become more difficult to bank on targets for Patrick and Hamilton.) It is also worth noting that Sutton played only 51 snaps in Week 14, to 64 for Patrick and 72 for Hamilton. Incredibly, Case Keenum has thrown only five passes more than 16 yards downfield across his last two games combined — which is severely limiting the per-play upside on all of these guys.
Patrick played primarily on the perimeter last week against the 49ers, working the sidelines for out routes and corner routes. He saw a monstrous 10 targets, which he turned into seven catches for 85 yards. Working against Patrick is his attachment to a passing attack that has not topped 205 yards in four straight games (with zero games in this stretch in which Keenum has completed even 60% of his passes). Working for Patrick is an every-down role and a strong shot at another five to eight targets. He carries a low floor on these looks, but there is enough upside for him to be considered on this slate.
The same goes for Hamilton, who worked primarily on underneath routes last week and turned his nine targets and seven catches into only 47 yards. This is not a great matchup for Hamilton to grow a downfield role, but it’s almost impossible for him to continue averaging only 6.7 yards per reception, leaving a bit of untapped upside on this play. We cannot count on Keenum throwing the ball 42 times again (heading into last week, he had not topped 32 pass attempts in three straight games), so target expectations should be bumped down a couple pegs — but there is still room on this two-game slate for one or two of these pass catchers to matter.
Even with Keenum uncorking 42 throws last week, Matt LaCosse saw only one target while playing 60 snaps and running 31 pass routes. Across his two games in the starting role, he has gone 1-3-0 on two targets. He’ll obviously need a big rise in work in order to provide value on this slate.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
The Browns’ aggressive defense has presented a quality matchup for running backs this year, with the 11th most yards allowed per carry and the 10th most receiving yards allowed to running backs. While the yardage upside is nice, the main reason we have been targeting running backs this year against the Browns has been the touchdowns, as only one team has allowed more rushing touchdowns to the position than the 14 the Browns have allowed.
This is a strong setup for Phillip Lindsay, who took a commanding share of the Broncos’ snaps last week, playing 48 snaps to nine for Royce Freeman and 17 for Devontae Booker. This is where it becomes important to drop a reminder that Lindsay played only four more snaps than Freeman in Week 13 — but if the Week 14 deployment carries over to this week, Lindsay’s floor/ceiling will grow. Across his last four games, he has touch counts of 15 // 14 // 20 // 18. Another 14 to 18 touches is the safest projection, but there is room for Lindsay to grow his role further. His explosive burst and his red zone usage (10 touchdowns on the year) give him a strong setup in this spot.
Behind Lindsay, Freeman and Booker are nothing more than dart throws — hoping for a broken play or a multi-touchdown game.
All bets are off on the Broncos behind Lindsay (who I like quite a bit in this spot), as this broken passing attack is entering a tough matchup, and the 42 pass attempts we saw from this team last week has been more “outlier” than “norm” lately. Patrick, Hamilton, and Sutton should all be involved — with Sutton carrying the most upside if Ward misses, and with Patrick/Hamilton perhaps becoming an interesting Bundle Play if Ward is out there. I typically prefer these bundle/”Cheat Code” plays when the points are pretty guaranteed to hit between the two guys being considered — which is not the case here; but on a slate this small, there is a chance these guys combine for enough points to matter while opening salary for other spots on the slate. Each guy can also be played solo as a guess-and-hope option. Sutton can be targeted in tourneys even if Ward is on the field — though his chances of reaching this upside obviously becomes slimmer if he is locking horns with the Browns’ stud rookie.
On the Browns’ side, I like Mayfield quite a bit on the two-game slate, with the only concern coming from the low-volume nature of this Browns passing attack. A best-case scenario here would call for the Broncos to hang tight throughout (or to even play with a lead, with help from the home crowd), but Mayfield will have a shot at solid production regardless — especially if the Broncos slow down the run and push Cleveland to the air.
Everything else on this Browns passing attack carries a low floor, leaving these guys as guess-and-hope plays. Landry and Njoku are the best of the bunch, though neither inspires confidence.
Chubb is a bet-on-usage play on the two-game slate. His role in this offense is big enough that he will have a solid shot at producing even in a difficult matchup.