Kickoff: Sunday, December 11th, 1:00 pm Est
Location: Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Betting Odds: CIN-6, 47.5 O/U, per oddshark.com
Writer: Dustin Ludke (@theDunit13 on Twitter)
Deshaun Watson (Sit, QB2)
In his first game after nearly two years, Deshaun Watson showed some signs of rust. He only threw the ball 22 times, completing only 12 of them for 131 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped his first two passes in his return. He did make some plays with his legs rushing for 21 yards on 7 attempts. His ability to keep plays alive and his pure athletic ability are both still there. He now gets to face the in-state rivals the Bengals. The Jungle of Cincinnati will be rocking as they look to capture another win and keep the pace for the divisional crown. The Bengals are giving up the sixth-fewest points to quarterbacks at 13.34. It’s a tough matchup for Watson who had had plenty of practice but missed the game speed reps to be ready to lead the team to wins. The Bengals can score points in bunches so passing may be the way the Browns have to win the game I expect the attempts to go up beyond the 22 he had this past week. I’m still not starting him til I see him click in this offense. He should be sat as I expect him to be in the lower QB2 range.
Nick Chubb (Start, RB1), Kareem Hunt (Sit)
Everyone expected a massive week from Nick Chubb as he went against the Texans, but he ended up with a down game. He only played on 51% of the team’s snaps which isn’t out of the norm for him and he still got 17 carries and had 80 yards. He failed to get into the endzone which capped his fantasy production in the FLEX range. He now gets the Bengals who are 17th in points allowed to the running back position at 22.22. It’s a far cry from the Week 13 smash easy matchup, but he is still a must-start. He is getting plenty of volume in the run game. Even without being used in the passing game, he managed 23 carries, 101 yards, and two touchdowns in the Week 8 matchup against the Bengals. You have to start him as an RB1 this week.
The questions start to come in when you get to Kareem Hunt. He only played on 38% of the team’s snaps which was down from his typical high 40s. He got nine carries, the most he has seen since Week 8. He also added only three targets, which has been roughly the norm this year. Hunt was drafted as a back who would get his production from the passing game and that hasn’t come true this year. He has been a FLEX or better nine times this year but only twice in the past four weeks. It’s not a great matchup and with the quarterback change, we aren’t sure what the offense is going to look like. I’m sitting him until we see his role with Watson under center.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends
Amari Cooper (Start, WR3), Donovan Peoples-Jones (Start, FLEX), Harrison Bryant (Sit)
The fact that Watson hasn’t played in two years didn’t affect Amari Cooper as much as the stat line would indicate. Yes, Cooper only had four receptions for 40 yards he did have nine targets. He also played on 81% of the team’s snaps and ran a team-high 24 routes. It had more to do with coverage and chemistry, not lack of opportunities. Cooper now will see coverage from Cam Taylor-Britt who was rated by PFF at 63.1 in coverage. I would expect Watson gets back into game form that Cooper will continue to see his opportunities get better and slightly increase. You can start him as a WR3 this week. I will want to see it before I trust him more.
Donovan Peoples-Jones had a slow receiving day. He posted three receptions for 44 yards. It was looking like his second disappointing day until he returned a punt for a touchdown. That saved him in most fantasy leagues. He will be seeing a lot of Eli Apple who rates at 51.0 in coverage. D.P.J.’s game is built on speed and down-the-field routes which used to be Watson’s specialty. If Watson can get back that form and build the chemistry with the former Michigan Wolverine, then brighter days are ahead. The Bengals are giving up the fifth-fewest points to wide receivers. It’s a tough matchup for all the receivers but especially Peoples-Jones. There will probably be a lot of safety help over the top to stop the long bomb play, which will limit the opportunities for DPJ. He did play on 95% of the team’s snaps in Week 13 and saw three targets on his 23 routes. I’m willing to play him as a FLEX in hopes that he hits on that one big play that saves my day. If you have safer options, I might want to go with them, especially if you need the win.
David Njoku missed Week 13 with a knee injury so it’s a situation to monitor as we head into Week 14. Given the short week, I expect Harrison Bryant to be the leading tight end even if Njoku does suit up. Bryant ran only 16 routes while playing on 57% of the team’s snaps. He only saw one target, catching it for six yards. It’s not a high-volume stat line. Cincinnati is giving up 11.52 points to tight ends which is 16th in the league. While Watson gets back into game shape I’m not looking for his tight end to be a breakout star. There is still Pharaoh Brown who can steal snaps and targets on top of the possibility of Njoku returning. Sit all the Cleveland tight ends this week.
Joe Burrow (Start, QB1)
Joe Burrow has put the Bengals on his shoulders and is carrying them to wins while they get healthy. He completed 80% of his passes in the Week 13 win over the Chiefs, while throwing for 286 yards and two touchdowns. What has been a crucial addition to the past two weeks has been the rushing. He has over 5 carries and over 25 yards in each of the last two games. He even added a rushing score this past week. It’s not a key part of his game but those extra yards add some easy points to Burrow’s stats. The Browns are giving up the eleventh fewest points to quarterbacks at 15.13, but it’s not a matchup where I’m sitting Burrow. He only has four games where he has one or fewer touchdowns and has five games with three or more total touchdowns. He is a must-start QB1 every week. He has his wide receivers healthy and the passing attack is starting to click on all cylinders. Burrow only has eight interceptions on the season and four of them came in Week 1 and he hasn’t had any in the past two weeks. Fire him up with confidence.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB2) Samaje Perine (Start, FKEX)
It would appear that Joe Mixon will be ready to go for this game. He logged limited practice every day leading up to being inactive for the Week 13 game and got in a limited practice on Tuesday this week. What will remain to be seen is his workload. In his absence, Samaje Perine has played very well. Perine has seen over 15 carries in the past two games and has added seven targets in each of those games. It’s a great matchup for the Cincy backs. The Browns are giving up the second most fantasy points to the running back position at 28.06. The Bengals haven’t done very well rotating backs. The most carries a second running back has had in a game was nine and that was the only time this year one has seen over 5 carries. Will the Bengals utilize a rotation against the Browns and hope to keep both Mixon healthy and Perine on his hot streak for the stretch run? I suspect yes. Mixon should be started as an RB2. Even with the great matchup in their Week 8 meeting, Mixon only had eight carries. He ended up having a good fantasy day by adding in seven receptions on nine targets. Perine excels in the pass-catching game as he has caught 78.8% of his targets on the season. I think he can be started as a solid FLEX play. He has proven he can be trusted with the workload and has shown explosive play potential. He should be worked in as they look to slowly work Mixon back into game shape.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
Ja’Marr Chase (Start, WR1), Tee Higgins (Start, WR1), Tyler Boyd (Sit, FLEX), Hayden Hurst (OUT), Mike Wilcox (Sit)
It was Ja’Marr Chase‘s first game back after missing four games. He showed no sign of lingering injury issues as he posted seven catches for 97 yards. It will be interesting to see how the Browns decide to cover the Bengals’ trio of wide receivers. Chase is projected to see Martin Emerson who rates at 74.4. It’s a tough matchup but with the ability to move Chase around the formation, they can get better matchups. The talent and scheme will win out and you shouldn’t worry about starting him as a WR1.
With Emerson being on Chase, Tee Higgins will benefit from being covered by Denzel Ward who rates at 51.3. The more he can get that matchup, the more he can go off. Week 13 was a down week as he only had three receptions on five targets for 35 yards. He saved the day with a touchdown. He will be looking to continue the conversation of who is actually better between him and Chase. He played on 93% of the snaps and led the team with 35 routes run. You can start him as a solid WR2 this week.
Tyler Boyd played 87.2% of his snaps in the slot position which this week will draw coverage from Greg Newsome II, who rates at 66.5. Boyd ran 34 routes in Week 13 and saw five targets catching four of them for 60 yards. It’s by far the toughest matchup out of the three. The Browns as a whole are only giving up 32.64 points to wide receivers which is 18th in the league. I’m worried that Boyd can see consistent opportunities unless he plays more on the outside, which he hasn’t done much of. I’m going to sit him even if he gets into the FLEX range.
It looks like Hayden Hurst will miss Week 14 with a calf injury. He was having some good weeks but his role moved down the pecking order with Chase returning. Mike Wilcox will be the primary pass-catching tightened. He played on 72% of the team’s snaps but only saw one target. In fact, the tight end group for the Bengals only saw 4 targets the whole game. Cleveland is giving up the sixth-fewest points to tight ends at 9.41 so it’s an easy sit for a guy who hasn’t played much against a tough matchup.