Kickoff: Sunday, September 13th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Betting Odds: BAL -7.5, 48.5 total via Oddsshark
Baker Mayfield (Sit)
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield enters the season with much to prove. Mayfield closed out 2018 with a flash, setting the rookie touchdown record and earning Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration. In 2019 he struggled with interceptions, consistency, and perhaps the spotlight. The Browns hired a new coach and offensive coordinator, one that favors the play-action and tight end, both strengths of the young signal-caller. However this week Mayfield faces one of the toughest defensive units in the league, and on the road. Managers should look elsewhere for a fantasy start but pay close attention to the new-look offense in Cleveland.
Nick Chubb (Start, RB2), Kareem Hunt (Start, Flex)
The Browns have, perhaps, the strongest running back tandem in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Expect the Browns to attempt to establish the run early and often, and Chubb should be the primary benefactor early in the game. Chubb had at least 15 carries in all but one game last season and that volume should continue in Week 1. Baltimore has a strong defense but they have allowed individual rushers to reach at least 85 rushing yards in five of their last six games, including a 195-yard Derrick Henry performance to end their season. Chubb is a must-start this week, and he should return RB2 value with upside. Hunt should see plenty of opportunities in the passing game should this game gets out of hand early. The Ravens are stingy against pass-catching running backs but Hunt only needs a handful of touches to produce. For many managers, Hunt was drafted as a flex play and Hunt returned that value in every game he played in 2019.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Odell Beckham Jr. (Start, Flex), Jarvis Landry (Start, Flex), Austin Hooper (Start, TE2)
One of the bigger questions heading into the season is if Odell Beckham Jr. will bounce back after three seasons of injury and disappointment. Beckham played in all 16 games but finished outside the Top 24 and averaged less than 13 points per game after scoring about 20+ in his career. Typically receivers struggle when changing teams but Beckham’s production has decreased each year since his rookie season in 2014. This week’s matchup will be tough for Beckham to break out. Owners can expect at least flex numbers, he did score a touchdown in one of the matchups last season, but it will be more about observing Beckham and see if his old magic is still there.
Jarvis Landry quietly finished inside the Top 12 fantasy receivers in 2019 for the third time in his career but anyone who rostered him on a fantasy team would have been surprised to see that final result. Landry did have three monster games that propelled his finish but he was a flex play the majority of the season. However, if there is an area Baltimore struggles it is at defending intermediate routes that Landry thrives on. While managers should not expect a blow-up performance, he is certainly a solid start this week.
Austin Hooper signed with Cleveland in the off-season and this will be the first opportunity managers have to see him in a familiar role. Anyone who has watched Minnesota recently can just look to see how they used Kyle Rudolph. Hooper will play a similar role in this Kevin Stefanski Browns offense but his first week with a new team might not be the ideal matchup. Many managers may have drafted Hooper as their only tight end but the matchup against Baltimore could be the toughest he will face all season. The Ravens allowed just 4.7 points a game to tight ends and this year’s team could be even tougher. Hooper is not an ideal play this week.
Lamar Jackson (Start, QB1)
In 2019, Lamar Jackson completed one of the most dominant seasons in fantasy football history, wildly outperforming expectations and making it look like a video game some weeks. One of those weeks was Week 16 when he tossed three touchdowns and rushed for 103 yards against Cleveland. With a shortened off-season and no pre-season games, the expectation is that Jackson starts right where he left off. By all accounts, Jackson is due for regression but don’t bet on it happening this week where he should explode for a monster game.
Mark Ingram (Start, RB2), J.K. Dobbins (Sit)
Baltimore’s rushing attack draws a favorable matchup this week in Cleveland. The Browns allowed 30 or more fantasy points to backs in four straight games to close out the season, and seven rushing scores. The Ravens foundation rushing attack should have no trouble moving the ball on Cleveland but a big question will be who leads that attack this season. Mark Ingram carried the ball more than 200 times last season but the team drafted J.K Dobbins out of Ohio State at the end of the second round. The team’s plan is clearly to replace Ingram with a younger back but how soon that happens will be a question fantasy managers will be looking for. This week expect a fresh Ingram to receive the majority of the carries against Cleveland. Early in the season, Ingram should be a player that managers can lean on, with hopes of selling high. For Dobbins, the team listed him as the fourth string back heading into the season, but all he will need is a few touches to make his mark. If he starts slow, he could also be an ideal buy-low candidate.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Marquis Brown (Start, WR2), Mark Andrews (Start, TE1)
Baltimore will likely focus on improving production from the wide receiver position. Last year the team used little of the receivers, partly because of injury and partly because of roster talent. Heading into this season dynamic receiver Marquis Brown is healthy, added weight, and is coming off a great camp. Brown is primed to take a big leap in year two and the added muscle should help him survive the demands of a tough NFL season. Cleveland was a tough matchup for opposing receivers a year ago but Brown is a player that can take the top off of a defense and should be started with confidence.
Managers should also fire up Mark Andrews this week. Andrews scored three times in two games against the Browns in 2019, including a six reception, 93-yard game in Week 16. Andrews was one of the more consistent tight ends in 2019, finishing as a weekly starter in 80% of his games and he should pick up right where he left off.
-Marc Salazar (@dingwog on Twitter)