StrategySeptember 27, 2012

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Thursday Night Fantasy Preview: Browns at Ravens

By R.J. White

Ladies and gentleman, your 2012 replacement referees have left the building! Let’s give them a big round of applause on the way out. The first game in which we’ll get to shift our focus to complaining about calls the regular refs make is Thursday’s tilt between the Browns and the Ravens. Most expect this to be a Ravens blowout, and I’m not sure giving rookie Brandon Weeden just three days to prepare for the Ravens defense promotes player safety in the least. Let’s look at how this game breaks down in fantasy football.

Cleveland Browns

Trent Richardson sandwiched a brilliant Week 2 performance between mediocre games against the Eagles and Bills, though a TD last week was enough to slot him into the top 10 in fantasy at his position heading into this game. The Ravens are doing a great job per play, allowing just 3.3 yards per carry in the team’s first three games, but only one team has given up more rushing TDs than the Ravens’ five. We should expect about 40 rushing yards, 40 receiving yards and a TD from Richardson, making him worth starting as an RB2 in your league.

Clearly, the passing game should be completely avoided for fantasy purposes. Unsurprisingly, Weeden has been one of the worst fantasy QBs in the league thus far, and a matchup with the Ravens isn’t going to help much. Mohamaed Massaquoi is leading the Browns with nine catches and 145 receiving yards but will miss this game. Greg Little has just seven catches and 74 yards with a TD this season, numbers that are acceptable for a fantasy WR in one game, not three.

In fact, the only fantasy commodity other than Richardson worth even considering in a given week for this team has been its defense. Depending on your scoring system, the Browns could rank in the top 10-12 units in the game, making them a borderline DF1 in leagues. They have five interceptions and nine sacks on the year, both numbers beating out the vaunted Ravens D. However, this isn’t a great matchup for them. Teams have managed just five sacks and two interceptions against the Ravens offense this year, and without Joe Haden around, we can’t expect the Browns to suddenly turn the tide, especially if the Ravens protect a second-half lead by keeping the ball on the ground.

Baltimore Ravens

After a big performance against New England, Joe Flacco is averaging a little over 300 passing yards and two TDs per game, numbers that are good enough to put him in the top 10 at his position. He has a great matchup this week against the Browns, who have allowed 281 passing yards and 2.67 passing TDs per game this year. But we do have to worry about the Ravens taking the foot off the gas in the second half, which could turn Flacco’s great matchup into a mediocre fantasy performance. It’s not something Flacco has had to worry about this year — even in the blowout of the Bengals in Week 1, the score was as close as 17-13 in the third quarter.

Torrey Smith overcame one of the worst possible tragedies one can experience last Sunday, losing a brother in the early hours of Sunday before dominating the Patriots with 127 yards and two TDs on six receptions. If we stick to the blowout script, Smith will have to get his numbers in the first half, and against an easy Browns team, I like his chances. Expect four catches, 80 yards and a TD before halftime and not much in the second half. Anquan Boldin hasn’t had more than four catches in a game yet, and although he has a good matchup, this could be one of those three-catch, 20-yard games that mean little in fantasy. He’s a borderline flex play.

Dennis Pitta has supplanted Boldin as the passing offense’s go-to receiver on shorter routes who complements Smith’s explosiveness. A blip on the fantasy radar heading into the year, Pitta already has 18 receptions for 188 yards and two TDs, and he should continue to excel in this game, especially if the Ravens focus on high-percentage passes while controlling the ball. Pitta is locked in as a TE1.

Obligatory Ray Rice section: Start the guy. Always.

The Ravens defense has been pretty solid, though not quite at the elite level their fantasy owners may have expected. However, they must be thrilled to face an overmatched rookie QB who has very little talent at WR at home. Expect a big game here. At kicker, Justin Tucker (Hook ‘em!) has worked his way into the discussion as one of the better fantasy kickers in the game, ranking top five in the league by hitting all seven FG attempts and all 11 extra points. He’s definitely worth using here.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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