Xandamere and I recently had a conversation about how the Ravens are one of the most interesting teams to break down. In Showdown play — where all the action has to come from one game — Baltimore presents one of the most challenging setups, because volume on the Ravens is spread so thin, and the Ravens’ defense makes life so difficult on opponents. On the Main Slate, however, these same elements make the Ravens one of the easiest teams to break down, as Lamar Jackson is almost always a lock, and there are never any guarantees for players to emerge behind Lamar on full-sized slates. When a player from the Ravens does emerge behind Lamar, Mark Ingram and Mark Andrews are the bets; and on the opposing team — in the rare instances where something hits — the run is likeliest to be your ally.
Lamar will likely be capping his MVP season here (it won’t be surprising if he is the exceedingly rare Unanimous MVP), as the Ravens will have nothing to play for in Week 17 if they get a win this week, with a first-round bye and the Number One seed already locked up. The Browns are middling against the pass — ranking 13th in DVOA and 15th in yards allowed per pass attempt — though they are so attackable on the ground (28th in DVOA // 4.8 yards allowed per carry to enemy running backs) that teams have been content to hit the Browns with the sixth highest rush play rate in the league. Given that Baltimore, of course, ranks far ahead of every other team in the league in rush play rate, it will likely take an unexpected game flow shift for Lamar to break out of this stretch that has seen him fail to crack even 25 pass attempts in eight consecutive games.
With so few pass attempts showing up for the Ravens and volume spread out on this group, this is always a difficult unit to bet on — especially as Lamar’s 33 passing touchdowns have elevated prices (while touchdowns are the least predictable element in DFS). Going purely off of production-to-date, Andrews is the best bet from this group. He has gone north of 53 receiving yards in only two of his last 12 games, and he has only one game all year north of eight targets; but he has eight touchdowns on the season, which has given him access to ceiling more often than not. Behind Andrews, it’s “hoping to guess right on a couple big plays,” or “hoping that more than one touchdown ends up on a single player.”
Joining Lamar in the backfield will be Ingram, who has topped 15 carries only two times (and 17 total touches only three times), but whose 14 touchdowns on the year have made him ceiling-playable a number of times. With only four games north of 76 rushing yards this year, Ingram is a risk/reward option — though the matchup is a bonus against the Browns. Ingram has also shown an ability to hit ceiling alongside Lamar, keeping each guy playable on the same roster.
The Browns, meanwhile, are coming off an ugly loss against the Cardinals that says a lot about this group of players (i.e., as opposed to “team”) that all think the solution to the problem is more work flowing their way. In reality, the one guy who doesn’t speak up (Chubb) should be the central piece of this offense, but the Browns have been so focused on “getting the pass game going,” they have consistently (and illogically) failed to get Chubb involved until they fall behind.
When this team takes to the air this week, they’ll be dealing with a Ravens defense that ranks fourth in DVOA against the pass in spite of their early-season struggles (prior to Jimmy Smith getting healthy and Marcus Peters joining the team), and that hasn’t allowed a receiver to touch 100 yards since Peters arrived (with garbage time required for any wideout to get above even 91 yards in the Ravens’ last 10 games). This is a very different defense from the one the Browns smashed in Week 4, and it won’t be surprising if this defense is looking to make a statement here. A bet on Odell Beckham (who remains hobbled with his hernia injury) or Jarvis Landry is a bet on volume and talent winning out over matchup in a game the Browns will likely be trailing. This isn’t a pitiful bet when you’re talking about players as talented as these two, but it’s still a long-shot bet best reserved for upside shots in large-field play.
In the Browns’ backfield (where they have a softer matchup vs a Ravens defense that ranks 21st in DVOA against the run — with the Ravens holding running backs to the ninth fewest rushing yards in the league, but with per-touch production a positive in this spot at 4.51 yards per carry), Nick Chubb is the best bet for a slate-breaker, with Kitchens’ inability to lean on him as a focal point (recent carry counts of 16 // 15 // 17) his biggest obstacle. Even in the four blowout losses the Browns have had, Chubb has seen 16+ carries (albeit without Hunt on the field for the first three of them), making him an interesting “bet on talent” play in a spot that is tougher for the low volume typically afforded than for the actual matchup. A repeat of Chubb’s Week 4 game (165 yards and three touchdowns vs the Ravens) is obviously unlikely, but a solid game is in the cards. Behind Chubb, Hunt (who has 10 to 12 touches in all six games played) is a long-shot play at his price unless his volume spikes, but he does have enough per-touch upside that it wouldn’t be a crazy play in large-field action.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar is always squarely in the mix — and while it’s difficult to get a true feel for how he stacks up on the slate at his price until I’ve finished writing the NFL Edge and given my mind a few hours of rest before going back and reading everything myself, his raw ceiling is as high as any quarterback, and his chances of approaching that ceiling are high in this spot, likely landing him as a Tier 1 + Priority play for me yet again.
Behind Lamar, Ingram is always interesting as a mix-in piece for his ceiling as part of a multi-entry block, and he’s always a bit difficult to put in one’s core given his low floor at his price (and the unpredictable nature of touchdown scoring). I’ve been mixing in a few “Ingram hedge bets” on my Lamar-heavy weeks (often with one or two rosters on which they overlap, and with each carrying rosters solo elsewhere), and I imagine I’ll end up there again this week: acknowledging that it’s impossible to predict Ingram’s touchdown spikes, but that I want to make sure I have exposure to those when they hit.
Behind Ingram, I don’t usually take the risk on Baltimore pass catchers — but if you want to go there yourself, Andrews has been the player who has hit with the most regularity, and he’s in the mix for ceiling.
Finally, the drop in price for Chubb on DK makes him interesting to me as a fringe play in tourneys, as it’s honestly not a stretch to say that Chubb is the best per-carry back in the league (first in the NFL in rushing yards; first in yards per carry among backs averaging at least 10 carries per game), and this matchup isn’t all that daunting on the ground. The likeliest scenario has Chubb seeing too few carries to justify even his lowered price, but if he can pick up just a few extra looks (or can hit on just one or two early runs), he could prove to be a really nice Upside piece on this slate.