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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Week 7 Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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The Browns are 4-2, but it certainly didn’t look that way when they were being beat badly by their division rival Steelers in week 6. Now they travel to Cincinnati to face the basement dwellers of the AFC North, looking for their second win. For the 2020 NFL season, Matt Savoca will be providing his weekly NFL Daily Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown column, going through every single game and offensive and defensive matchup, every week of the season. For your viewing convenience, we have broken up the matchups breakdown into several single columns, each one covering a single game. You can find links to every game right here. We have 11 games on tap for Week 7 NFL DFS and NFL Daily Fantasy Football, so let’s dive in. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into Browns-Bengals NFL DFS picks for your daily fantasy football lineups.

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NFL Daily Fantasy Football + NFL DFS Matchups Column for Week 7

Cleveland Browns (26.5) at Cincinnati Bengals (24.5) – 1:00 p.m. ET

Cleveland Passing Game

Week 6 was an unmitigated disaster for the Cleveland Browns, losing 38-7 to their division rivals in a game that saw quarterback Baker Mayfield consistently pummeled in the pocket. The Browns allowed Mayfield to be pressured on 44% of his dropbacks (seventh worst in the NFL last week) and sacked him on 40% of those plays (second best). Mayfield didn’t respond well in the pocket either, with a 2.8 passer rating while under pressure. He now has a pressured completion percentage of 41% on the season, 10th worst among all qualified quarterbacks. On top of that, he’s not 100% healthy, still dealing with lingering effects of a rib injury that had him questionable leading into week 6. His benching for Case Keenum had much more to do with health than with poor play, but make no mistake; the play from Mayfield was quite poor last week.

Luckily for Cleveland, the Bengals have had an awful time creating pressure this season, with an adjusted sack rate (via Football Outsiders) of just 4.6%, fifth worst in the NFL. Their team pass rush grade via PFF ranks 31st. This certainly bodes well for Cleveland and their offensive line, but Mayfield will need to do his part in the accuracy department even if the pocket is able to be kept clean, something he’s struggled to do consistently this season. He ranks just 16th in clean pocket passer rating and 25th in adjusted completion percentage. If he’s able to outpace these metrics Sunday, Mayfield should have a great chance to exceed expectations based on his 17th-highest salary among quarterbacks on the main slate. His median projection on Awesemo.com is in lockstep with his salary this weekend.

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Fantasy gamers should prepare to take advantage of other players’ hesitancy to roster Mayfield and his receiving weapons after their week 6 shellacking despite Cleveland being a 4-2 team in a very winnable game this week. The Bengals have been a consistently advantageous matchup for wide receivers and tight ends, ranking in the bottom 10 in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to both positions and 17th worst in PFF’s team defensive grade. That’s positive news for Odell Beckham, whose 5 fantasy points tanked lineups last weekend. Beckham should certainly see more looks (his two catchable targets were by far a season low), but there’s a high likelihood he’ll be shadowed by Bengals’ cornerback William Jackson, who possesses PFF’s 16th-highest defensive grade at his position and shadowed T.Y. Hilton 83% of the time last weekend, holding him catchless on three targets. Beckham is absolutely more skilled than Hilton, and Jackson could struggle with quickness of Beckham, but it could also mean there might be more advantageous looks for Jarvis Landry, who has an identical average depth of target to Beckham over the last three weeks (14.7) and just one fewer target.

However, neither have been the target leader for the Browns during that span, as Austin Hooper, used sporadically through the first three weeks of the season, has seen his usage skyrocket since week 4 and is the only Browns player averaging five receptions in that same period. Best of all, fantasy gamers don’t need to break the budget to afford putting Hooper in DFS lineups this weekend, as he ranks just 11th among tight ends on the slate. Awesemo’s projections for Hooper have him as one of the clearest value plays on the slate. MME players could also take a look at Rashard Higgins, whose five targets since week 4 seem miniscule, but he’s now seen 22% of the Browns’ red zone looks during that span and has an average depth of target just south of 12. He carries a bit more upside than secondary tight end Harrison Bryant, though both are in play this weekend against the mediocre Cincinnati secondary.

Cleveland Rushing Game

Despite the negative game script in week 6, starting running back Kareem Hunt still saw a 33% opportunity share, tied for 12th most among all running backs. The results were horrendous however, as Hunt only managed 57 total yards against the Steelers dominant defensive line (arguably the best unit on any team, on either side of the ball) and recorded his first game without a touchdown since week 1. Week 7, however, sets up significantly better for Hunt and the Cleveland line, as the Bengals’ rank eighth worst in the NFL in adjusted line yards allowed and fourth worst in open field rush yards allowed. Particularly if the Browns can get ahead early, Sunday’s game has the looks of a great bounce-back spot for Hunt. He’s one of, if not the most likely player on the slate to reach 100 total yards and a score, making him a fantastic value, even as the sixth-highest-salary running back on the main slate. D’Ernest Johnson has also settled into a steady secondary role, earning an 11% opportunity share, and is absolutely in play in tournaments, especially if fantasy gamers think this game will go over its Vegas total.

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Cincinnati Passing Game

It was another week, another loss and another Sunday in the top 10 in dropbacks for Joe Burrow, who continues to lead the league in neutral situation air yards per second (an aggressiveness metric highlighted on the Awesemo weekly Data Deep Dive). Sunday’s week 6 loss marked Burrow’s fourth game in five tries with over 300 yards passing and third game in his last four reaching 7.0 yards per attempt or better. But the underlying metrics for Burrow still suggest a quarterback struggling to make smart decisions, or deliver the ball accurately, with any consistency. Burrow ranks 20th among passers in catchable target rate, 26th in red zone completion rate, 31st in play-action completion rate, and 36th in deep ball completion percentage. There’s no doubt that efficiency matters for a quarterback’s fantasy production, but volume reigns supreme, and Burrow has plenty of it. He hasn’t had a game with fewer than 37 attempts, and he has completed 23-plus passes in five of six starts. That’s plenty to make Burrow viable, particularly at his salary, ranked outside of the top 15 quarterbacks this weekend. The Awesemo projections see Burrow as a clear value at the position despite a less-than-favorable week 7 matchup against a stingy Browns defense that ranks in the top half of the league in PFF’s team coverage and team defensive grade.

Cleveland has been an excellent matchup for wide receivers in particular, ranking in the bottom five in schedule adjusted fantasy points, but determining who Burrow’s distribution of targets has become much more of a guessing game over recent weeks. Sunday’s matchup against Indianapolis marked the the third straight week with a different receiver leading the team in targets. In week 6 it was the veteran A.J. Green, who saw 11 looks and turned that into a team-high 17.6 fantasy points. But that doesn’t preclude Tyler Boyd (24% of team target’s since week 3) nor Tee Higgins (22%) from once again surpassing Green in usage. All three rank between 32nd and 40th among all wideouts in true weighted opportunity share, but both Higgins and Boyd have salaries inside the top 30 receivers. This makes Green, with a salary barely within the top 50 receivers, the best value by far of the three. This is reflected in the Awesemo projections for this weekend, as they’re bearish on both Higgins and Boyd compared to their salary-based expectations. An added bonus for this offense: No receiver outside of the Bengals’ big three (or Joe Mixon) has even earned 7% of the targets since week 4, making this team easily stackable, particularly with the typically high volume of the Cincinnati passing game. Tight end Drew Sample and Auden Tate (6%) are paper-thin plays who need touchdowns to hit pay dirt on their severely limited workload.

Cincinnati Rushing Game

Mixon’s day was cut short after he suffered a foot injury in the second half of week 6, which ended his two-game streak with 40% of the Bengals’ opportunities. It’s been enough to hold Mixon out of practice (as of this article’s writing on Wednesday Oct. 21), which could indicate it’s serious enough that Mixon won’t be able to play on Sunday. If he is able to go, however, Mixon has a solid floor of 20 touches and three targets in a game the Bengals are expected to be competitive in. That’s enough to at least consider Mixon for fantasy lineups, even as Mixon ranks 11th among all backs in salary on the main slate. Assuming Mixon suits up, here’s a clear value in the Awesemo projections. If Mixon sits, expect Giovani Bernard’s ownership to be among the highest of any player, but it would be a mistake to just pencil in Mixon’s expected workload for Bernard, though his looks would certainly skyrocket beyond the 3.5 touches he’d been seeing (he had 11 touches last week). The Bengals are just as likely to utilize a committee approach without Mixon, working in Samaje Perine and possibly even Trayveon Williams, which would limit Bernard’s upside. This might be a stay-away option entirely in week 7 simply because of workload ambiguity without Mixon in the lineup.

Prediction: Browns 27, Bengals 21.

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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