Fantasy Football

BAL-CLE Lineup Calls

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

As I sat down to write this piece, word broke that a deal between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association was nearing completion. Initial reports tagged the deal as “imminent,” but that talk backed off quickly. After three weeks of sometimes mind-boggling calls and no-calls supported by dubious explanations, the two sides reportedly negotiated deep into the night to bridge the gap. Keep it locked on for updated details from Jay Glazer, Alex Marvez and our NFL team.

One of the games that helped to tip the proverbial scales was the Sunday night affair between the Ravens and Browns. Viewers put in full neck workouts by shaking their heads over many of the calls during that contest.

The other big story during that game was the participation and, ultimately, the dominant performance of Torrey Smith. Smith posted his best game of the 2012 campaign, producing six receptions on 10 targets for 127 yards with two touchdowns. He played the game with a heavy heart after losing his brother in a motorcycle accident early Sunday morning.

Smith’s potential is immense against the Browns in Week 4 on Thursday night. Joe Haden continues to sit out because of his suspension, thereby leaving the secondary exposed. Through three games, the Browns have allowed 281 receiving yards and 2.7 receiving touchdowns per contest and the third-most points to opposing receivers.

I do not fear the emotional letdown from Smith or the Ravens despite the short week. Cleveland week promises a game effort on both sides.

The promotion of Smith obviously puts quarterback Joe Flacco at the forefront of the conversation. He leads all quarterbacks in “big play” completions. Flacco has already logged 11 completions of at least 25 yards. He’s completed 64.5% of his pass attempts thus far while averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 61.5% of pass attempts against the Browns (19th).

Anquan Boldin represents a solid WR3 play this week as well. Boldin has been targeted 16 times this season, producing 10 receptions for 118 yards.

Dennis Pitta maintains his slot as a back-end TE1 this week despite the difficult matchup. The Browns have allowed the 13th-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, limiting Brent Celek, Jermaine Gresham and Scott Chandler to a total of 13 receptions for 140 yards with one touchdown. Pitta’s role most resembles that of Celek in Philadelphia. Celek recorded four receptions for 65 yards in the opener.

Do I need to promote Ray Rice in this space? Rice has averaged 133.6 total yards through three weeks and topped 100 yards against the Patriots’ defensive line led by Man-Crush Vince Wilfork. He’ll face a Cleveland run defense that ranks 16th against running backs. The Browns have yet to cede a rushing touchdown this season. That’ll change on Thursday night.

Let’s flip to the other side of the ball.

The fate of the Cleveland offense rests squarely on the shoulders of two rookies. Quarterback Brandon Weeden has been inconsistent through three weeks, as you’d expect, and fantasy owners have yet to punch the proverbial lottery ticket with running back Trent Richardson.

Following a terrible showing against the Eagles that yielded a 5.1 Passer Rating, Weeden has posted more consistent efforts against the Bengals and Bills. He’s obviously in a tough spot here against the Baltimore defense. Baltimore ranks 14th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but note that Michael Vick and Tom Brady were the past two opponents (Andy Dalton in Week 1).

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Taking the analysis of the passing game further, the Browns’ leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi carries a “Questionable” tag because of a hamstring injury. Massaquoi had not participated in early-week workouts.

“We can’t play a guy that’s going to drop footballs.” That was Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur’s statement regarding Greg Little, who has struggled markedly in the early part of the season. Little, who came into the year as a possible deep WR3 option, has recorded just seven receptions for 74 yards through three weeks and may be relegated to the bench. Massaquoi’s injury status affects Little’s snap count for this one.

You’re looking at rookie Josh Gordon and Joshua Cribbs picking up reps this week, but they hardly represent a blip on the fantasy radar.

One player that I’m curious to watch on Thursday is tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron has caught 5-of-7 targets for 45 yards, including an 18-yard gain, against the Bills. The Ravens have not allowed a receiving touchdown to a tight end this season and rank 18th in points allowed to the position (16 receptions for 243 yards).

I filibustered as long as I could in this piece. Richardson rates little more than deep RB2 consideration this week. Richardson has posted just one good start in three games this season. I know that he scored against the Bills, but he registered just 27 yards on 12 carries. His six receptions for 24 yards offered little consolation to owners in standard leagues. The Baltimore run defense, led by Haloti Ngata, has not posted its normal dominance. Baltimore currently ranks 20th in fantasy points allowed to running backs (Green-Ellis, McCoy and Ridley, Woodhead, etc.). Consider your alternatives.

It’s been a wild ride through the first 48 games of the season. Will Week 4 continue the trend or will a new phase begin in Baltimore on Thursday? Nobody anticipates that the short-handed Cleveland squad will rise up to beat Baltimore. But, can they keep it close?

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Browns, Patriots, Eagles, Ravens, Brent Celek, Joe Flacco, Mohamed Massaquoi, Torrey Smith, Greg Little, Trent Richardson

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