Titans at Browns is a fun real-life game between two young teams that have similar mindsets in what should be a gritty, physical battle. The Browns have a new head coach; the Titans have a new offensive coordinator; but there is actually more that we know about these offenses and what they want to do than there is that we don’t know.
We take a deeper look at the Browns’ offense HERE — but the gist of this team is that they want to take control on offense, dictating the game on this side of the game while spreading the ball around and forcing opponents to try to take away ten different things at once. The Browns should come out swinging in this matchup (down the stretch last year, Baker Mayfield threw the ball 37 or more times in three of his final five games, and with Odell Beckham added to the mix, Cleveland will try to land a haymaker early), which brings us to an interesting spot in this game: Mayfield’s matchup.
In 2018, the Tennessee Titans were tough on quarterbacks, allowing the sixth fewest passing yards and the fourth fewest passing touchdowns in the league. But a look under the hood tells a different story, as the Titans had the benefit of playing one of the softest quarterback schedules.
The Titans’ defense is built around disguises, with a mix of man and zone designed to confuse quarterbacks and wear them down mentally as much as physically. Generally speaking, seasoned quarterbacks tend to be better equipped to diagnose and handle such defenses — which can allow them to open a path to solid production.
Although we don’t have a sample from last year of Mayfield facing a similar matchup with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays, he did tear apart the Ravens in Week 17 — and while that defense is more about aggressiveness than aggressive disguises, I’m comfortable leaning toward Baker and Kitchens with extra time to prepare, over leaning toward the Titans coaches. We should expect Baker to have somewhere between an above-average and strong game; and while there are other QBs who have a better shot at topping the slate, Baker landing the top score of the weekend (which is what we should always be targeting at QB, given how condensed pricing typically is at this position) is not a far-fetched possibility.
If Baker does have an above-average to strong game, this should also make his pass catchers worth talking about, where the big problem with targeting these guys in DFS this year can be boiled down to this: in Mayfield’s eight starts with Kitchens in charge, he threw to the following number of players per week: 10 // 9 // 8 // 10 // 8 // 7 // 10 // 8.
Beckham is going to have games this season in which he sees double-digit targets, but we should enter the season expecting him to also have games in which he sees only seven or eight looks. Until we see him prove otherwise, this bounces him out of cash game consideration — but he remains a viable tournament piece, as his spiked-target games may prove to be tied to something the Browns like about a matchup as much as to shootout potential. (With that said: a shootout is massively unlikely here, which does close off one of the clear paths to Beckham picking up a spiked-target game — which means that if you roster Beckham, you’re hoping for his targets to spike for some other reason, or you’re hoping for him to break off multiple big plays.)
Jarvis Landry will hit Tennessee where they are weakest, over the middle of the field, though he will need a broken play in order to hit for upside || Rashard Higgins should typically have a ceiling in the range of around 4-60 || and David Njoku is all about hoping for a big play or a touchdown.
Swinging over to the Browns’ backfield: last year, the Titans were average on the ground against running backs, but they allowed the fewest receiving yards and the fewest touchdowns to the position, which closes off some of the clearest paths to a spiked-week game from Nick Chubb. There is some range to Chubb’s role this year, as he could settle in as anything from a 75% player to a 95% player (again: you can find a deeper look at this situation in the AFC North Preview). Between the matchup and the uncertainty of Chubb’s role, he isn’t a cash game play for me; though if you are in the bucket of fantasy players who expect Chubb to be a 95% back, it is obviously fair to target any back with that sort of snap share even in a difficult matchup; and Chubb does have his standing as a home favorite going for him.
Tennessee’s best chance of staying in this game will be to keep the ball on the ground and evaporate time from the clock; and with their offensive philosophy this year built around running the football, that is precisely what they will try to do. Last year, Cleveland was attackable on the ground, allowing 4.75 yards per carry to running backs while giving up 14 touchdowns on the ground — though with the departure of Gregg Williams and his over-aggressive defenses, it is fair to wonder whether these run game issues will remain. The Browns have the talent on defense to be better against the run than that.
If targeting Derrick Henry, you are effectively betting on a fluky, multi-score Henry game in a Titans loss, or you are betting on the Titans being able to take and hold a lead — allowing Henry to pile up touches and to break off some big plays. For all the apparent Henry love this offseason — with him going in the late-third round of Best Ball drafts — we should point out that he cracked 20 touches only two times last season, and he didn’t top two catches at all; so be sure to consider game flow expectations whenever considering Henry — knowing what you expect to happen in the spots where you roster him.
Of course, the likeliest scenario here is for the Browns to take a lead, and for the Titans to have to turn more heavily to the air as this game moves along. And in order for this Titans passing attack to produce week-winning upside (even at a price-considered standpoint), they would need to take a big and sudden step forward — especially on the road against this Browns defense that allowed the fourth fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL last year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Although the Titans carried an easy slate of quarterback matchups last year, I would prefer to target my DFS passing attacks in spots where my team has a shot at a shootout, and isn’t playing against a slow-paced team with a bad offense and a defense that is good at disguising its intentions. I don’t dislike the Browns this week; but there are other passing attacks that my style of play will likely draw me toward over this team.
I also expect to avoid Chubb myself; though given that Chubb cracked the first round of Best Ball drafts down the stretch run of summer, it seems many are entering the season believing that Chubb will be a 95% player — and if you are in this camp, you should consider Chubb to be fundamentally underpriced on DraftKings and FanDuel, even in a difficult matchup (especially as that 95% role would mean that Chubb is playing on third downs, and is picking up a few additional receptions along the way).
As for the Titans: yeah. No. I’m more interested in the Browns’ new-look defense — which won’t be forcing Myles Garrett to use only two pass rushing moves, and which should be able to get after the quarterback this year without leaving open lanes in the run game, with a matchup against a timid quarterback in Marcus Mariota who may hold onto the ball too long a few times and allow sacks and potential fumbles to pile up.