Tonight’s Thursday night game is one where unless you root for either of these teams, you can probably afford to do something else productive with your time. The Browns look to avoid going defeated on the season, and take on the Ravens who at .500, are firmly entrenched within the “in the hunt” graphic. The Browns don’t have bad coaching, they’re just extremely raw and it has shown as they’ve given teams some games. Especially against a divisional rival, the Ravens can’t afford to overlook this one.
As a rookie starter who the team had no real intention of starting entering the year, Cody Kessler has managed to exceed expectations. While a lot of times young quarterbacks always try to make big plays, Kessler has done a nice job of taking what is given to him. Unfortunately for him the Ravens hover around the top third of the league in pass defense to this point. He could end up with a solid final line, but isn’t worth using as a quarterback streamer this week in fantasy formats.
As shown last weekend against Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers, the Ravens defense can stop the run as well. After a red hot start to the year, Isaiah Crowell has predictably cooled off in the last month or so. Despite figuring to see 15 or so touches, Crowell is a risky fantasy play this week. To me, if you play either of the Browns running backs Duke Johnson would be the preference. He has shown to be a more than capable receiver and the Ravens have had lapses where they’ve struggled against pass catching backs. Johnson’s role on a week to week basis is unpredictable, but he seems to have a more favorable matchup of the two.
The good news for the Browns is they have the makings of what could be a very exciting tandem of receivers. Rookie Corey Coleman returned from a broken hand last week and faces off against a secondary he torched in week two. There is a chance the Browns could throw early and often, so keep Coleman active as a third receiver or flex option in fantasy formats. While we all knew Terrelle Pryor had incredible athletic gifts, nobody expected him to become what looks to be a very good NFL caliber wideout this soon.
Pryor has grown drastically in areas such as route running throughout the season, and seems to have a nice rapport with Kessler. Considering that the Ravens secondary has allowed 14 touchdowns to opposing receivers, Pryor should remain active in all lineups. When Kessler isn’t throwing to that tandem, Andrew Hawkins and Gary Barnidge should get some balls thrown their way. The Ravens have fared well against tight ends this year, so Barnidge wouldn’t be worth using in fantasy formats, but both could have roles in tonight’s game.
Considering the Browns struggles defensively against the pass, Joe Flacco has the makings of a very good fantasy option this week. Eight of the nine quarterbacks to face the Browns have thrown multiple touchdowns this season and odds are Flacco continues the trend. For that reason, he’s worth starting if you’re in need of a fantasy quarterback this week. It also helps his receiving corps is pretty much at full health.
Steve Smith returned last week, and should see at least six to eight balls thrown in his direction. Mike Wallace has seen a reemergence in Baltimore and at this time appears to be the team’s number one receiver at the moment. While people questioned how much Wallace had left in the tank, it’s almost like his still present game changing speed didn’t matchup with quarterbacks that struggle throwing vertically. Who would of guessed? Wallace scored two touchdowns the last time these teams played and is obviously worth playing in all formats. Another sneaky pass catching option for the Ravens tonight is tight end Dennis Pitta.
The Browns have really struggled defending pass catching tight ends, and Pitta is a nice safety valve that Flacco looks for often. Don’t be stunned if he ends up as the Ravens leading receiver tonight. Not surprisingly, the Browns also struggle against the run. While the current setup is more of a committee, Terrance West figures to see the majority of the touches.
A former Browns draft pick, West will obviously want to bring his A-game against his former team, and the matchup bodes well. He should considered a nice second running back in fantasy formats. Rookie Kenneth Dixon has also gotten some touches of late, but has been very ineffective with them. While that trend may continue, he isn’t worth using for fantasy purposes.
Despite the Browns struggling in various areas, this one should be closer than odds-makers seem to believe. Hue Jackson has game planned against these Ravens for years, and while he may not have the personnel to win consistently, at the very least the Browns should give them a game. My prediction is Browns 21 Ravens (-8.5) 28.