While this, for all practical purposes, has nothing to do with DFS, one thing that makes this slate attractive is the fact that nine of the 13 games have genuine playoff implications. This, of course, is not one of those games, as the “Super Bowl bound” Browns will be traveling to Arizona to take on the rebuilding Cardinals.
The Cardinals, as we are well aware by now, have been one of the more attackable defenses in the NFL this year, ranking 32nd in yards allowed per game, 30th in points allowed per game, and 28th in DVOA. The Cardinals rank third in pace of play and 18th in plays per game, and they are allowing opponents to dominate time of possession and to run the most plays per game in the league. The Cardinals have been stronger against running backs than wide receivers and tight ends, allowing a respectable 4.13 yards per carry to the running back position (and allowing only three running backs to top 100 yards in this matchup, with each of them requiring 21+ carries to get there), while getting blasted by wideouts and tight ends for the following, lengthy list of notable outings ::
11-112-1 Michael Thomas
Cleveland continues to run a timeshare in the backfield, though this offense is getting Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the field together enough that each has remained relevant in recent weeks (last week, each player played over 60% of the snaps, with Hunt playing only four fewer snaps than Chubb). While it may yet prove to be somewhat random, Hunt has shown a very locked-in level of touches, going 11 // 12 // 10 // 12 // 11 through five games, while Chubb has been more dependent on game flow and matchup, with bounce-around touch counts in this stretch of 22 // 27 // 24 // 17 // 16.
If Chubb’s usage has been a kiddie ride lately, usage for Odell Beckham has been a roller coaster, as he has gone 7 // 6 // 12 // 10 // 8 // 6 // 5 across his last seven contests while routinely taking a backseat to Jarvis Landry. Landry has seen recent target edges on Beckham of +3 // +7 // -2 // -3 // +5 // +5 // +2, while out-targeting him in the red zone this season 16 to seven. Perhaps it’s the hernia issue, or perhaps it’s Beckham’s purported desire to get out of Cleveland, or perhaps he’s just sick of all the hospital balls Baker Mayfield has been throwing up to him, but he is simply not producing anywhere close to level we have become accustomed to, and if you take his name off of the role and production, he’s more “bet on big play and hope for the best” than consistent, reliable piece. David Njoku played only 20 snaps last week and is now dealing with a knee issue, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he will be able to take advantage of the soft tight end matchup (and it’s a guess as to whether or not anyone else will step up if he misses — with a clogged-up tight end room that has produced very little all year). Landry, of course, generally sees his targets fairly locked in, having gone for double-digit looks in five of his last seven games. The Cardinals represent a winnable test for Landry, keeping him in the mix this week.
Since Week 2, the Cardinals have produced only a small handful of moderately useful stat lines through the air, with only one score that you could not have lived without (the monster game Christian Kirk posted against the Buccaneers). This offense is simply too horizontal, and too willing to turn receivers’ backs to the end zone, leaving little room after the catch for big plays to develop. The offensive line isn’t good, and the weapons outside of Kirk aren’t great – with Larry Fitzgerald doing his annual late-season slowdown, and with no other weapons representing a serious threat to the defense. All of this has led to Kyler Murray often producing his solid games without bringing any pass catchers with him.
The matchup itself is middling for Kyler, with the Browns ranking middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this year and also running into discipline and tackling problems that can open opportunities for Kyler to hit big gains on the ground. If looking to pair Kyler with a receiver, Kirk is your best bet – and while the Browns’ pass defense has been solid outside of broken plays this year, the usage should be locked in enough for him to at least post a useful floor line even if he misses, while the Browns allow enough broken plays that you have some paths to upside if you chase. Behind Kirk, this passing attack is just hoping for a miracle at this point in the year.
The Cardinals backfield is not quite as bleak as “hoping for a miracle,” but it is certainly far from being reliable – with Kenyan Drake (38 snaps) and David Johnson (21 snaps) splitting work last week, and with neither player producing in this fairly nonexplosive offense. The matchup on the ground tilts in favor of this backfield, as the Browns rank 25th in DVOA against the run and are allowing 4.71 yards per carry to enemy backs, with Joe Mixon the latest running back to hit in this spot. Drake is the best bet to take advantage here, though he’s far from a sure thing with recent touch counts of 16 // 22 // 15 // 14.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m always a fan of the Browns backfield, though they are pretty clearly somewhere between “a bit over priced” and “appropriately priced” when their touch expectations are compared to the backs around them. If going here myself, Chubb is the player I would be likeliest to lock onto, as he has a chance to benefit from the fast pace of the Cardinals and the opportunity the Browns may have in this spot to be playing with a lead. I’m also a fan of concentrated passing attacks against the Cardinals, and this makes Landry and Beckham interesting guys to keep in the mix. Landry is the player I’m likelier to focus on, while Mayfield and Beckham may slip into the mix on my builds behind him if I end up going overweight. (To put that another way: Beckham and Mayfield don’t stand out in isolation; but it’s easy enough for big stat lines to hit against the Cardinals that I may want some action here; and if I end up with enough action on Landry, I’ll hedge with a bit of action pointed in other directions as well.)
On the other side, Kyler is underpriced for his production to date, and with the Browns missing Myles Garrett and just playing out the string on the season (and with some of the Cardinals players getting to take on their old head coach, for whatever that’s worth — as Steve Wilks is now the defensive coordinator of the Browns), it wouldn’t be surprising to see this offense get enough going for Kyler to be a useful piece this week. He’ll certainly be in the mix for me as I begin building my player pool, and I’ll see how he stacks up for me against the other quarterbacks on the slate.
I’d be likely to play Kyler without Kirk, as there are just clearer paths to upside; though I could see using Kirk as a viable piece if game stacking, while the running backs would be the pieces next likeliest to hit if expanding from there.