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Week 7 Game Hub: DEN-CLE

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Week 7 Game Hub: DEN-CLE

Denver Broncos (3-3, 3-3 ATS) at Cleveland Browns (3-3, 3-03), 8:20 p.m., TNF

Brolley’s Broncos Stats and Trends

  • The Broncos opened the season with a perfect 3-0 outright and ATS record against the three of the five worst teams in my Power Ratings (NYG, Jax, NYJ), but they’ve come crashing back to earth with an 0-3 outright and ATS run against AFC playoff contenders (Bal, Pit, LV).

  • Denver is 5-2 toward unders in its last seven road games.

  • Teddy Bridgewater has posted 19+ FP in four of his five full games this season. Playing in garbage time for the second straight week, he completed 35/49 passes for 334 yards (6.8 YPA), three touchdowns, and three interceptions with 2/9 rushing against the Raiders. The Browns are giving up the third-most FPG (23.4) to QBs after giving up four passing TDs to both Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert in the last two weeks.

  • Courtland Sutton has 23+ FP in three games and fewer than nine FP in his other three contests after going for 8/94/1 receiving on 14 targets last week. He ranks fourth in aDOT with an average of 17.4 yards, and Mike Williams just torched them for 8/165/2 receiving two weeks ago.

  • Tim Patrick has 12+ FP in five of his six games this season after posting 3/42/1 receiving on six targets on 89% of the snaps in a loss to the Raiders in Week 6. He scored his third touchdown of the season from 23 yards away, and the Browns are giving up the third-most TDs per game (1.5) to WRs after allowing six WR scores to the Cardinals and Chargers the last two weeks.

  • Noah Fant busted out with his first game of 65+ yards by posting 9/97/1 receiving on a season-best 11 targets against the Raiders last week. Fant’s aDOT sat at just 5.8 yards through the first five weeks but it rose to 10.1 yards in his second game with Albert Okwuegbunam (hamstring, IR) out of the lineup. The Browns are giving up the eighth-fewest FPG (9.1) to TEs, but they will be without rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle, IR) for at least the next three weeks.

  • The Broncos remained dedicated to their split backfield yet again. Javonte Williams finished with 14/68 scrimmage on 47% of the snaps last week while Melvin Gordon turned in 13/73 scrimmage on 53% of the snaps. Gordon continues to hold a slight advantage in passing situations with 30 routes compared to Javonte’s 23 routes, but Javonte does have exactly three catches in four straight games. The Browns are giving up the third-fewest FPG (17.0) to RBs, including just 3.7 YPC and 3.5 receptions per game to the position.

Brolley’s Browns Stats and Trends

  • The Browns are 4-1 toward overs and 1-4 ATS in their last five home games.

  • The Browns are the walking wounded coming out of their 37-14 beatdown by the Cardinals in Week 6. They listed 20 players on their injury report this week with cluster injuries at offensive tackle, running back, and across all three levels of their defense.

  • The cherry on top of the sh** Sundae is Baker Mayfield playing through a torn labrum in his left shoulder that isn’t healing any time soon as he continues to push through the injury. Mayfield has topped 19+ FP just once in six games, but he's at least thrown multiple TD passes the last two weeks. The Browns announced that they’ll rest Mayfield this week, giving the start to former Broncos Case Keenum. He last started for the Football Team in 2019, posting a 1-7 record with 11 TDs and five INTs over eight starts. Derek Carr averaged a sick 12.6 YPA and the Raiders averaged 8.2 yards per play against the Broncos last week. Mayfield will sit this week in favor of Case Keenum.

  • Odell Beckham played just 54% of the snaps last week because of a shoulder injury so of course he had his best yardage game of the season with 5/79 receiving on eight targets. He’s yet to find the end zone this season, but the Broncos allowed a whopping seven passes that gained 25+ yards against the Raiders, which is the most since at least 1991.

  • Donovan Peoples-Jones has come out of nowhere to post 9/171/2 receiving on 11 targets the last two weeks after seeing a grand total of four targets in the first four games. He did catch a 57-yard Hail Mary for most of his production in Week 6, but he could be viable this week if Jarvis Landry (knee, IR) missed again because of Denver’s downfield passing woes. The Broncos have allowed two wide receivers to top 65+ yards in three straight games.

  • David Njoku had just 7/111 receiving without a touchdown through the first four weeks of the season before going nuclear against the Chargers with 7/149/1 receiving in Week 5. He went back to doing little in Week 6 with just a six-yard catch on two targets and 16 routes against the Cardinals. Austin Hooper posted more targets (3) and routes (25) but he finished with just a four-yard catch. The Broncos have limited Darren Waller (5/59 receiving) and Mark Andrews (5/67) in the last three weeks.

  • ​​Both Nick Chubb (calf) and Kareem Hunt (calf, IR) will miss this week, leaving the backfield to D’Ernest Johnson and rookie Demetric Felton. Johnson will serve as the team’s primary runner while the hybrid WR/RB Felton should factor in during passing situations. Johnson owns 40 career carries for 198/1 rushing (5.0 YPC) and 10/92 receiving over three seasons, while Felton has 8/90/1 receiving on nine targets without a carry this season. The Broncos are giving up the fourth-fewest FPG (17.1) to RBs this season.

Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies

Broncos

Pace (seconds in between plays): 32.4 (32nd)

Plays per game: 69.7 (10th)

Pass: 63.1% (14th) | Run: 36.9% (19th)

Browns

Pace: 30.9 (28th)

Plays per game: 69.0 (23th)

Pass: 52.6% (31st) | Run: 47.4% (2nd)

Pace Points

Well, this game quickly devolved into a disaster. The Browns are going to be rolling out preseason-style starting offense because their injury report is basically the cast list of a Final Destination film. Meanwhile, the Broncos aren’t in much better shape with Teddy Bridgewater beat up. Even if both sides were perfectly healthy, this game still would be far from a goldmine for fantasy between these two bottom-5 offenses in pace. Overall, this is the second-slowest game on the Week 7 slate in adjusted combined pace just a hair ahead of Ravens-Bengals. It’ll be very interesting to see if the Browns remain extremely run-heavy with both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out – especially considering that the Broncos have a top-8 run defense that is giving up the sixth-fewest YPC (3.66) and eighth-lowest success rate (37%). To put it mildly, there is not a lot to love in this matchup.

Huber’s Key Matchup Notes

From a fantasy perspective, this will be the least exciting Thursday Night Football (TNF) faceoff of the season. Both QBs are banged up. The entirety of one RB committee has been ruled out, the other has been rendered unusable by a 36.6% run rate (18th). Baker Mayfield would be worth a look if he would be playing based on his history, but he’s out. The arrows are pointing toward the Broncos stealing this game as road ‘dogs. Cleveland had the look of a team headed toward another playoff run. They still have a 59% chance to earn a playoff bid, but losing at home to Denver would cut that number in half.

I do like the matchup for Donovan Peoples-Jones, however. DPJ will see the most man-to-man from Kyle Fuller, who has permitted 1.68 yards per coverage snap (YPCS) (70th out of 84 qualified outside CBs), 0.33 FP/CS (67th), and a 120.2 TPR (70th).

Dolan’s Vantage Points

The Browns were, overall, a bad fantasy team with little to count on before everyone got hurt. And now they’re on a short week without their two best offensive players — RBs Nick Chubb (week-to-week with a calf injury) and Kareem Hunt (on IR with a calf injury) — with their injured QB Baker Mayfield (shoulder) sitting out, and WR Odell Beckham (shoulder) looking like a long shot to play.

Let’s start with the backfield, because a lot of fantasy teams aren’t going to have an option but to start D’Ernest Johnson or Demetric Felton, with John Kelly as the third-stringer. Johnson is a 208-pound plodder — a 4.81 40-yard dash in his 2018 Pro Day — but he typically goes forward, which is what teams need of third-string RBs. He has 40 carries and a 5.0 YPC average to his name in a three-year NFL career, with 10 catches for 91 yards to go with it.

Meanwhile, Felton is an RB/WR hybrid who didn’t test well at his own 2021 Pro Day, running a 4.59 40-yard dash at 5’8”, 189 pounds, with even worse showings in agility drills. But Felton caught 99 passes in four years at UCLA, with more receiving yards than rushing yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons. So far in the NFL, Felton has 9 catches for 80 yards and a TD, with no carries — he’s played just 2 snaps in the backfield overall, out of 45 offensive snaps. So the Browns clearly view him as more advanced in the passing game.

The Broncos have been a nightmare matchup for RBs this year, surrendering the 4th-fewest FPG to the position, and Cleveland also has offensive line issues, with both starting tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin is danger of missing (are you sensing a trend?). But the Browns have no choice but to try to run the ball given the state of their passing game. Johnson and Felton are both on the low-end RB2 radar, since so many fantasy players need fill-in options this week. The Broncos did just lose ILB Alexander Johnson (pec) for the season, too.

On Wednesday morning, it actually seemed Mayfield — who got some limited work in this week — had a better shot of playing than Beckham, who has missed multiple practices this week with a shoulder injury of his own. But the Browns have decided to give Case Keenum the start on Thursday night, with the Browns having the 10-day mini to get healthier. In my mind, it’s the best course of action for Cleveland at this stage, as Mayfield was clearly in serious pain, and Keenum is one of the best backups in football. Even in a week with six teams on bye, I have zero interest in Keenum as anything more than a low-end 2QB/superflex option.

As an aside, it’s getting harder and harder to shake this Baker with/without OBJ stuff.

If Beckham is out or limited, that would indicate a larger role for Donovan Peoples-Jones, who scored 2 TD last week (including on a Hail Mary) and has had his two best games of the season in back-to-back weeks. DPJ is a defensible WR3 in a week with so many injuries and teams on bye. While the Broncos have been a tough matchup from fantasy purposes for WRs — a 12th-fewest FPG allowed — it’s been far easier to attack the perimeter corners for big plays on Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby than the slot, where Bryce Callahan roams. The Broncos allowed a whopping seven passes that gained 25+ yards against the Raiders, which is the most since at least 1991. DPJ plays a large majority of his snaps outside.

If Jarvis Landry (knee) can play this week — he’s expected to be activated — he’d get targets, but mostly out of the slot, against Callahan. He’s a prayer WR3, but the Browns really need him.

Even with the Browns’ issues at WR, have fun trusting one of these TEs. The Broncos have done good work on good TEs this year, and David Njoku’s role shrunk to a season-low 44% snap share in Week 6 despite putting up 149 yards and a TD in Week 5.

While he’s coming into the game with a foot injury, Teddy Bridgewater is expected to play against a Cleveland defense that has been banged up all year, and gave up 4 TD passes in back-to-back weeks to Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray. While Teddy is neither Herbert nor Murray in terms of talent — or anywhere close — Brolley highlighted above why he’s been an underrated fantasy option. And with so many high-end QB options on bye this week, Teddy is a viable option, just so long as you’re not concerned about the injury. Just understand that a lot of his work has been in garbage time, and this game isn’t likely to be one.

It is worth noting that Cleveland’s banged-up defense has been getting healthier in the secondary, where Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Greg Newsome have all returned from injury in recent weeks. Still, the Browns gave up 4 receiving TD to Cardinals WRs last week, and Courtland Sutton has too high a ceiling to sit, and Tim Patrick has a very comfortable floor that could come in handy in such a brutal bye week. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine many fantasy players have the luxury of sitting TE Noah Fant, who is the overall TE7 in fantasy football and is down both his top backup (Albert Okwuegbunam) and is against a Browns D missing a top LB (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah).

Meanwhile, those stashing Jerry Jeudy (ankle) could soon begin reaping the rewards, though I wouldn’t expect him to play on Thursday night.

Tom outlined above how this even split in the backfield is still annoying if you have Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon, who are both low-end RB2s this week against a Brown defense that has been dedicated to stopping the run. It should at least be close enough for Denver to stick to the ground game.

Here’s Graham Barfield from the Week 7 Stat-Pack on how Williams has looked:

  • “Per PFF, Javonte Williams leads all RBs in missed tackles forced per carry (0.34).

  • Williams ranks sixth-best in yards after contact per carry – behind only Nick Chubb, James Robinson, Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, and Kareem Hunt.

  • Despite all of this, Williams has yet to play more than 51% of the team’s snaps in a game this year.”

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