BROWNS // RAVENS OVERVIEW
While the second-place Steelers take on the broken-down Bengals in the late time slot, the first-place Ravens will do battle at home with a red hot Cleveland Browns team — with both of these squads boasting a 5-1 record across the last six weeks of the season. The scenario here is simple for the Ravens: win, and they take down the AFC North and move into January where they will host a home game in the first round of the playoffs; lose, and they will need to hope the Steelers somehow fail to take care of business against the Bengals. This is a great test for the young Browns, and it is great entertainment for us (even if this game will ultimately provide very little to target in DFS). This game carries one of the lowest Over/Unders on the slate, at 41.0, with the Ravens installed as 6.0 point favorites.
BROWNS PASS OFFENSE
The Ravens play a tight, aggressive style of defense that forces quarterbacks to make tight throws under constant pressure in order to move the field — with the stated goal of this team being to hit opponents in the mouth over and over again to a point where they “no longer want to keep playing” by the fourth quarter. With Baker Mayfield having a similar mindset on offense, this will be a fun matchup for years to come. The last time these teams met, Baker got the better of the Ravens, passing for 342 yards and a touchdown in a 12-9 home win. It will be a challenge for Baker to repeat this success in this spot, with the Ravens recently holding the following quarterbacks to the following yardage/touchdown totals:
:: Phillip Rivers — 181 / 0
:: Jameis Winston — 157 / 0
:: Matt Ryan — 131 / 1
:: Derek Carr — 194 / 1
Patrick Mahomes posted 377 yards and two touchdowns at Arrowhead against the Ravens, but he has proven to be the exception this year rather than the rule. Only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Ravens. Only four teams have allowed fewer yards to wideouts. Only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns.
Further complicating this spot — from a DFS perspective — is the fact that the Browns have become one of the most spread-the-wealth offenses in the NFL since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator, with this team tapping into Baker’s ability to read the field quickly and fire the ball to “the most open man,” rather than forcing him to throw the ball to a particular player on a particular play. If for some reason you feel compelled to go here, your “best bet” (such as it is) would be Jarvis Landry, who has recent target counts of 9 // 4 // 8 // 8. Perhaps a vindictive/petty Baker also tries to get a touchdown to Breshad Perriman (after which, Baker will stare down the front office that finally cut ties with Perriman after years of sub-mediocre play).
The Ravens’ weakest link on defense has been their tight end coverage, with this team allowing the ninth most yards to the position. David Njoku has recent target counts of 5 // 6 // 4 // 5 // 4, and he carries a low floor in this spot, but there is a non-zero chance he breaks through for some production this week.
BROWNS RUN OFFENSE
The Ravens’ defense has been free of cracks across the board, with this unit allowing the fourth fewest yards per carry in the league and clocking in as one of only three teams in the NFL that has not yet allowed 1000 total yards to the running back position. Between rushing and receiving production, the Saints are the only team that has given up fewer yards to the position. While Nick Chubb has been a force this year — averaging 5.3 yards per carry and topping 100 yards in three of his last six games — he will need to break free for a busted play or a multi-touchdown game in this spot in order to make a difference on this slate.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
The Ravens’ passing attack has been nonexistent since Lamar Jackson took over under center, with this team completing 12 to 14 passes in all six games in this stretch, while ranging between 19 and 25 pass attempts. Jackson has yardage totals since taking over under center of 150 // 178 // 125 // 147 // 131 // 204, and he has spread the ball around enough that none of his pass catchers have been worth targeting. John Brown has yet to top 30 receiving yards with Jackson; Michael Crabtree has yet to top 40 receiving yards; Willie Snead has posted three non-awful games (5-51-0 // 5-61-0 // 5-58-0), but he has also pitched in yardage totals of 0 // 8 // 0 in games with Jackson under center. Barring a total change in offensive philosophy, the only way to target wide receivers on the Ravens is to close your eyes and hope for a multi-touchdown game.
The best production from the Ravens through the air has come from rookie tight end Mark Andrews, with yardage totals since Jackson took over of 19 // 74 // 47 // 0 // 31 // 83 — though he continues to play limited snaps (only 20 snaps last week) as he rotates with fellow receiving-first tight end Hayden Hurst and with block-first tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. Andrews has yet to top four targets with Jackson, making him simply a zero-floor, decent-ceiling dart throw.
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
As noted last week when we stayed far away from Joe Mixon in his matchup against the Browns: Cleveland’s season-long numbers against the run are misleading, as this defense is ultra aggressive in getting after the quarterback, which opens up run lanes for backs to shoot through. In back-to-back games against run-heavy offenses that were missing their top wide receivers, Cleveland shifted their defensive approach and focused their attention on the run — holding Phillip Lindsay to 24 yards on 14 carries, and then holding Mixon to 68 yards on 17 carries. This should not be considered a pushover matchup for the Ravens’ awesome run offense, as the Browns have the pieces to at least make life difficult on the ground for this creative, well-schemed attack.
Since Jackson took over under center, the Ravens have piled up rushing yardage totals of 267 // 242 // 207 // 194 // 242 // 159 — though targeting this offense in DFS has continued to be an iffy proposition, as lead back Gus Edwards has one total reception in this stretch, making him a dud on weeks in which he doesn’t score, while Kenneth Dixon (touch counts of 9 // 9 // 12 // 10 since returning) and Ty Montgomery (touch counts of 8 // 3 // 0 since Dixon returned) are seeing too little volume to provide bankable value.
The best bet on this offense, of course, is the root through which all of this action flows: Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s limited passing production is making it difficult for him to produce elite scores (since taking over, he has yet to post a single score that would make you regret not having rostered him), but it is not outside the realm of possibilities that he could break off a 100-yard rushing game and score a couple touchdowns in a must-win spot. Beyond Jackson, targeting this offense is simply hoping to guess right on the touchdowns that will be scored.
Targeting offenses against the Ravens has been a losing strategy all season — and while there is a non-zero chance that the Browns produce one or two starting-caliber DFS scores, the chances of them producing the sort of score you “have to have in order to win” are slim enough that I’ll be staying away myself.
I have also stayed away from the Ravens’ offense since Jackson took over, as this team is simply not piling up DFS-useful statistics with their ground-and-pound approach. This won’t change for me this week. If you want to go here yourself, Jackson is the safest, highest-upside piece, while Gus Gus, Andrews, and (to a lesser extent) Snead all have an outside shot at posting useful scores as well.