Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
Cincinnati at Cleveland (Thu, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Bengals…
The stat line isn’t spectacular from his Week 1 debut (23/36, 193 yards, 1 INT; 8/46/1 rushing), but rookie QB Joe Burrow earned praise from his teammates for leading the Bengals on a 14-play, 84-yard drive to potentially beat the Chargers late — it was nullified on a questionable OPI call on WR AJ Green. The Bengals then missed the game-tying 31-yard field goal.
Green, though angry at the call, had nothing but positives to heap onto Burrow after his late-game heroics. “We have a special one in Joe,” Green told Ben Baby of ESPN.
Burrow will continue to have some problems behind this offensive line, however. Burrow was pressured on 21% of his dropbacks in Week 1, and the Bengals just had to put guard Xavier Su’a-Filo on IR with an ankle injury. The offensive line was the biggest issue for this offense heading into the season, and losing a starter for a few weeks isn’t exactly ideal. Despite getting blown out last week, the Browns generated pressure on 40% of their pass rush attempts against the Ravens last week, per SportsInfoSolutions.
The Bengals paid RB Joe Mixon a few weeks ago, but he lost his first fumble in nearly three full seasons, directly leading to the Chargers’ game-winning field goal in Week 1. Mixon, obviously, vows to make up for it.
The Bengals’ WRs should have an easier go of it in Week 2 — the Browns are very banged up in the secondary, where CBs Kevin Johnson (liver) and Greedy Williams (shoulder) missed Week 1 and look unlikely to play on the short turnaround into Week 2. This is especially good news for WR Tyler Boyd — the Browns allowed 191 yards and 2 TD to slot receivers in Week 1, third-most in yardage and second-most in TDs.
On the Bengals’ missed 31-yard field goal to end the game, K Randy Bullock injured his calves. While coach Zac Taylor says Bullock will kick Thursday night, it’s worth noting that the Bengals claimed former Brown K Austin Seibert on waivers. So they have a backup plan if needed.
What They’re Saying About the Browns…
So, all that hoopla about a new coach, a new connection, a new confidence for QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham took all of one week to evaporate. After Beckham posted just 3/22 receiving on 10 targets in a blowout loss to the Ravens in Week 1, the talk of trading OBJ has already started to creep up. Mary Kay Cabout of the Cleveland Plain Dealer deals it, well, plainly here: “The disconnect is still there, and it’s real.”
Beckham has played 77 games, including playoffs, in his career. Twelve of his 17 games with the Browns (22%) make up 36.3% of his worst 32 games in terms of receiving yardage. Meanwhile, only one of his top 24 games in receiving yardage (4.2%) has come in a Browns uniform. He has been a mediocre NFL receiver by production in Cleveland. That’s not what the Browns paid for.
With DTs Geno Atkins (shoulder) and Mike Daniels (groin) sidelined, the Bengals allowed 155 rushing yards in Week 1 to the Chargers, 6th-most in the NFL, and they really struggled with the power of rookie Joshua Kelley. It’s figuring to be a good week for the Browns to get their elite backfield going to help out the struggling Mayfield with Atkins and Daniels both out.
Unfortunately, the Browns could be limited in their ability to do that. Rookie LT Jedrick Wills (shin) has been limited in practice this week, while RT Jack Conklin (ankle/finger) has missed multiple practices this week. Wills, Conklin, and C JC Tretter (knee) are all questionable.
My favorite overall play from this game is Boyd, who I think has a much better matchup overall than he had in Week 1. I was disappointed with Mixon, but he’s too talented for his production to be so slight yet again, and I seriously doubt the fumbles are going to become a serious problem all of a sudden.
The Bengal offensive line is a concern for me against this defensive front, however.
As for Cleveland, if this isn’t the week for Beckham and Mayfield to get off the schneid, then when is it? The Bengals’ defense is beatable at all levels, but if Jarvis Landry misses, Mayfield is going to have to throw to someone.
It sucks that the Browns’ line is so banged up, because this should be a great week for both RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to produce. I’m treating them both as RB2s this week, though I think Chubb will play more in a closer game (Hunt played a lot with the Browns getting crushed in Week 1).