Thursday Night Football Preview Week 7: Denver Broncos vs Cleveland Browns

It has begun ladies and gentleman, the bye-pocalypse is officially upon us and boy is it hitting hard. In a week where fantasy mangers will be without some of their biggest assets and team staples, it seems almost poetic that the Thursday night matchup will feature a team in the Browns who are going to possibly be missing over 50% of their starting offensive unit. On the other side of the ball we will get the exciting experience of watching the spiraling Broncos who now might not even have Teddy Bridgewater under center. So while most managers might and probably should be looking away for this, I am going to at least try to find some value for your lineups so let’s dig in!

The Quarterbacks

Case Keenum: We start our breakdown with, surprise surprise, a backup starting for the Browns in veteran Case Keenum. Baker Mayfield was ruled out this week for the TNF matchup after finally succumbing to the torn labrum that has been ailing him for most of the season. While even in the grimmest of situations fantasy managers should not start Keenum against this Broncos defense, it is good to have an idea of who the undrafted quarterback is going into the matchup. In his last full season as a starting quarterback, ironically with Denver, Keenum was not necessarily lighting up the scoreboard; averaging just over one touchdown a game and under 250 yards. You pair this with the offensive line issues where we might see him without both starting tackles plus a weakened run game and you have a tough spot for fantasy value. It seems highly unlikely that no one is able to play through, but you will most likely be playing roulette for pass catcher options.

My Final Confidence Rating: Keenum: 1.

Teddy Bridgewater: Across the ball the Broncos quarterback situation is all of a sudden getting murky as well, as late in the week, starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was list questionable going into the matchup. Should he miss this weeks matchup, Drew Lock would step back in and while this might be a positive for some deep shots, neither would be any more than a superflex QB2 at best. The way the Browns offense is shaping up, there is a real chance that this Broncos defense who, even though they got shredded by the Raiders last week, has the pieces to cause havoc and keep points off of the board. Through six games, Bridgewater has been serviceable for fantasy, averaging just under 17 points per game and coming in as a solid QB2. This matchup against a Cleveland team who has allowed the 4th most points to the quarterback position, all be it with some tough matchups, should provide sustainable opportunity for Bridgewater not to submarine your team during these trying times. In a superflex league during this bye week nightmare, mixed with injuries, a guaranteed 15 points is a welcome sight in my book.

My Final Confidence Rating: 3.5.

The Running Backs

D’Ernest Johnson: The lone survivor for the Cleveland Browns backfield has come down to D’Ernest Johnson this week, the waiver wire darling of the bye-pocalypse. For the record, I will be briefly discussing Demetric Felton in the wide receiver portion of our breakdown. Back to Johnson though, in his one chance last season where he saw an increased workload, he did come through for fantasy managers with a stat line of 13 carries for 95 yards in the barn burner against the historically bad Dallas defense last season. So that is the good, the negative side of this discussion is that the offensive line for Thursday will not be nearly as strong as they were in Johnson’s big game last season. Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. both only made it to a limited participation for this weeks practice which does not bode well, meanwhile, the Broncos have been the 4th best at stopping the run in the NFL so far this season and should be looking to stack the box against the Browns with Keenum under center and their receivers banged up. I actually did not place bids on Johnson in any of my redraft leagues, even with the amount of players missing as this is shaping up to be a trap game in my eyes as I dive into deeper. The Broncos as a fantasy defense do come in at 21st against the position but that has come with matchups against the James Robinson, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs, all of which are well above the talent level Johnson brings to the table. Again, if you are staring down starting Alex Collins or another Seattle back or Johnson Thursday night, you need to play Johnson, but if you asked me to give a prediction for fantasy output this week I would project 14 carries, 60 yards and no touchdown for the 3rd string running back.

My Final Confidence Rating: 3.

Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams: The Broncos running back situation is like the C-Rated version of what the Browns have when healthy. At their peak when Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb are on the field, you are getting a great shot at two RB1’s every week. When Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams are in the game, you are getting a guaranteed top 25 back but most likely no higher than RB15 either. I mean look at their stat lines on the year right now: Gordon – 70 carries, 332 yards, 13 receptions for 113 yards and 2 total touchdowns. Then you have Williams – 65 carries, 300 yards, 14 receptions for 90 yards and 1 total touchdown. You will not find a backfield more evenly split and set up to just syphon work from each other like you do with this Denver duo.

Coming into the season, fantasy managers and analysts alike, myself included, all thought that Williams would surely over take the veteran Gordon over the course of the season. While that still very well could come true, nothing of the sort has happened yet as Gordon has managed to stay healthy and fresh, in some part due to the split work load, and both running backs as mentioned have been perfect low-end RB2s or high flex plays. This week will be no different and when you are forced to start numerous players off the waiver wire, they should be welcomed sites in lineups knowing you are guaranteed points to start the week. The Browns will bring a stout run defense to the table, as the rank 31st in points allowed to the running back, but this week as mentioned seems to be trending in the Broncos favor and it looks like they are not the underdogs Vegas believed them to be.

The Browns currently have multiple inside linebackers on the injury report with limited participation plus Malik McDowell at DT limited as well which could loosen up the defense even more. Then factor in that the Broncos have been losing game making the offense throw the ball repeatedly and you could find a ground and pound grind it out type of game from this team.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Gordon 4 and Williams: 4.

The Wide Receivers

OBJ, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and company: We have already covered the quarterback situation here for the Browns, and that should be all you need to know that there more than likely will not be a fantasy star coming from this side of the ball. Guys like Odell Beckham Jr. have been disappointments for most of the year and now he is dealing with a shoulder injury that could make him a game time decision. If OBJ does in fact miss this game, that actually could turn into an upgrade and provide sneaky flex appeal for Peoples-Jones to have a big performance as the lone wideout in town. Peoples-Jones has had the most consistent snap count of the wide receiver group and if OBJ is not dressed and taking his usual targets, Jones could see double digit targets in this matchup.

As seen last week, he only needs one deep pass to make your decision worth it and very well could find himself as the lone touchdown reception recipient. The other names to monitor with this matchup would be Demetric Felton or Anthony Schwartz who could be the other gadget player/home run threats for this Cleveland offense as they look to create something for Denver to think about. Overall, in a game where Cleveland should be looking to slow the game pace down and speed the clock up, if OBJ is active then there could just be too many mouths to feed to confidently start one of the pieces. Should Odell sit though, then Peoples-Jones or one of the tight ends we are about to discuss could be one of the saving graces for your matchup this week.

My Final Confidence Ratings: OBJ: 2.5, Peoples-Jones: 3, all other options: 1.5.

Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick: Denver could very well possess the only two pass catchers worth starting in this matchup and that is Sutton and Patrick. Unfortunately for the duo, Cleveland will seem to have their secondary mostly intact for the matchup. However, through 6 weeks, where they have been strong against the run, they have been torched through the air; allowing the 5th most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers. If you are looking for stability, which you always should be, then you are starting Patrick in this and probably every matchup this season.

The guy just produces 10 point fantasy weeks like it is nothing while somehow always managing to never have a blow up game. When times are dire like they are now, there is no doubt that you need have that locked in producer in your lineup. Sutton is the opposite where he is going to have weeks where you are left shaking your head disappointed, and then he is going to do what he did against Jacksonville and dominate your matchup for you, winning you the week. This week is going to be the ladder. The Browns seem to be in meltdown mode and a big primetime blowout at home, fresh off a blowout loss to the Cardinals in week 6 could be the tipping point.

Even with the Browns secondary healthy, Denzel Ward has been average at best, and Greedy Williams has only been slightly better with both giving up over 60% completion percentages when targeted. If Bridgewater is able to play and be 100%, then look to Sutton to have a strong outing and produce top 24 numbers in an offense that has shown to be willing to push the ball deep and air it out. This could be a matchup where we see all four relevant skill position players sustain value, especially when the other options are nobodies on the wire.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Sutton: 4 and Patrick: 3.

The Tight Ends

This is one where I am just going to combine the analysis into two names, Noah Fant and David Njoku. I have given up on the Austin Hooper experience personally, after basically being unstartable all season. Njoku on the other hand at least offers you blowup potential as we saw a few weeks ago with 140+ yards on 7 receptions. The cupboard for Cleveland is pretty bare and someone is going to get yardage and targets. Why not put your faith in the someone that could turn those targets into big plays or even break one for a leaping touchdown or YAC.

The same is going to be said for Noah Fant, who if you watch the Broncos offense, just leaves you wanting more than you are potentially ever going to get. In this tight end landscape, you could be much worse off than starting Fan or Njoku, especially the former based on the draft capital you probably used to get him. I wish there was some golden nugget I could get you for these two but we currently are grasping at straws trying to pull value out for this week with the amount of names that you are missing. I would rank Fant as a 10-12 TE this week and Njoku as a potential high upside top 18 play with a low floor.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Njoku: 2.5, Fant: 3 and the rest 1.5.

The Defenses

The Cleveland defense was my fantasy sleeper going into the season. With all of the weapons they added and talent they got in the draft, this group was shaping up to be a formidable unit with big play potential. So far throughout the season though, they have only been able to show flashes of that potential and not fully have it come to fruition. This week, if Teddy is starting probably seems like a similar story for the Browns defensive unit. I would feel safe starting them but would not expect any major point totals unless we see the sporadic Drew Lock under center; then we are talking potential pick six territory.

On the other side, all of these injuries just scream big game for this Broncos unit and Von Miller. If the Browns get down early and have to find a way to air it out against this secondary, Miller should be pinning his ears back and creating all sorts of havoc on this patchworked oline of the Browns. We could see a handful of sacks or tipped passes and errant throws that almost always mean turnovers. Keenum averaged nearly one interception a game in his last starting stint so look for that to most likely continue in this matchup with Broncos already up to 14 sacks on the year and 58 pressures.

My Final Confidence Ratings: Cleveland: 3 and Denver 5.

So another breakdown is in the books Phinest fans. Hopefully this game proves me wrong (slightly haha) and provides a little more fireworks than I am projecting for your fantasy lineups should you be forced to start one of these fringe pieces. And as always feel free to hit myself or the crew on any start sit decision you may be having in this ever trying week. Until next week, good luck!

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