I’d like you to sit quietly for a second (I’m not sure why you were screaming, we’ve only just started here), and stare straight ahead (I’m also not sure why you have your computer beside you, not in front). Focus on something, and get into a state of deep concentration. That’s it, get in touch with your inner man/woman/other.
Ok, good, you’ve achieved something even greater than zen. It’s the sort of mental state in which Bradley Cooper can judo kick at least nine karate experts in an underground garage. You can do anything, and conquer anything. But it’s only through this state — this hyper concentrated state — that you’re able to truly understand and compute an event which could happen tonight.
Despite trading Trent Richardson and benching Brandon Weeden (their two first-round picks in the 2012 draft), the Cleveland Browns could be in sole possession of first place in the AFC North by the end of tonight’s game. It may only be for a few days, but that accomplishment alone still seems impossible. This isn’t how you tank, guys.
Yet here we are, considering a reality that’s downright comical. In fantasy, though, the starting options in tonight’s game are…well, they just sort of are. Let’s go exploring.
Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns
1. Stopping Jordan Cameron: can it happen?
I’m going to go with probably not. And then after that, I’ll go with if anyone does it anytime soon (Cameron leads his position in receptions with 30, and has 360 receiving yards and five touchdowns), it won’t be the Bills.
Why? Well, Jairus Byrd has been battling plantar fascitis and he’ll be a game-time decision tonight. He could still play after getting in a full practice Tuesday, but even if he does it won’t be the real Byrd out there. Then there’s Aaron Williams, who has been bothered by a back injury that forced him out of last week’s win over Baltimore. The hurt beats on with Leodis McKelvin possibly also out, Stephen Gilmore on the injured reserve, and nickelback Ron Brooks had foot surgery. What’s left then is an absolutely battered secondary trying to defend an offense that passes a whole hell of a lot with its new quarterback Brian Hoyer, and then passes some more.
Over Hoyer’s two starts he’s attempted 92 passes, while only 41 runs have been called (excluding Hoyer’s scrambles, and any trickery on end-arounds to receivers). Absorb that for a second too. It’s much easier to mentally grasp than the Browns’ record because with little to trust in the backfield following the Richardson trade, passing is the only option to move the ball forward instead of sputtering backwards. But regardless of the circumstances, asking a quarterback who’s a rookie as far as his starting experience is concerned (tonight will only be Hoyer’s fourth career start) to pass with that kind of volume usually ends in tears.
Yet that hasn’t been true despite the vertical thinking of Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski, and the risk it brings. When he’s not magnetized to speedster Josh Gordon (28 targets over just two games, including a whopping 19 in his season debut following a suspension) Hoyer is chucking to Cameron. A lot.
Cameron was already seeing many spiraling footballs before Brandon Weeden’s
exile injury, but his looks have spiked with Hoyer’s arrival. Cameron has been targeted by Hoyer 23 times, with double-digit games in each of the past two weeks. That means even with Gordon’s 19 targets in Week 3 — which is just stupid — a quarter of Hoyer’s throws have been destined for Cameron.
Between the Bills’ injury decimation and Hoyer’s tight end infatuation (heyo?), this will be another evening with many crooked Cameron digits.
2. What should you do with the Bills’ running backs?
So, you’re a C.J. Spiller owner, and you drafted him in the first round. That means you’ve found yourself crying into bowls of bacon ice cream (oh yes, that exists) a lot. Now he’s questionable tonight with an ankle injury after getting in only a limited practice yesterday, and he’s facing a game-time decision. Fred Jackson, meanwhile, is injured too after spraining his MCL in Week 4, though it’s only a minor muscle misalignment and he’ll be fine (or at least as fine as a 32-year-old running back with a strain can be).
You’re likely facing a wee little conundrum then. See, since you invested heavily in Spiller, it’s likely that you then turned around and picked up Jackson as a handcuff, because you like being smart and savvy (preferably both at the same time). Your decision if Spiller sits is obvious, but so is your decision if he’s playing. If you’re starting a Bills running back tonight, you’re starting Jackson.
It’s entirely possible that Spiller makes me devour delicious crow on this, because he’s really fast and shifty and stuff. But as we sit here right now in the hours before gametime when decisions, predictions, and failures happen, are you really confident starting a gimpy running back against a front seven that’s allowing a league low 2.9 yards per carry? No, you’re not, and it gets even worse when we recall that two weeks ago Adrian Peterson slugged away for 88 yards on 25 carries against these same Browns, and his longest run was only nine yards. That’s the same Adrian Peterson who has already recorded runs of 60 and 78 yards this year, and the same Adrian Peterson who’s averaging 105.2 yards per game. Prior to that, D’Qwell Jackson and company held Ray Rice to only 36 yards at a pace of just 2.8 per carry. Ughhhh.
No running back is a good running back to start against the Browns. But if you spent that first rounder on Spiller, it’s likely that the cupboard elsewhere is a little barren, and a Jackson handcuff is the best of the bad decisions you could make.
3. Is Joe Haden the new fantasy kryptonite?
Oh, and about those Bills players you’re not starting tonight: Stevie Johnson. Back away slowly at first, and then run.
Johnson will likely see Joe Haden across from him for most of the evening (I only say “likely” because Johnson has been playing the slot more, which could get him away from Haden for a bit). When that happens to a wide receiver, nothing else happens.
Here’s what Haden has done this season against other fast downfield threats who are far superior to Johnson:
- Mike Wallace: one catch for 15 yards
- Torrey Smith: seven catches for 85 yards
- Greg Jennings: three catches for 43 yards
- A.J. Green: seven catches for 51 yards
That’s an average of 10.8 yards per catch, and only a total of 194 yards split between four receivers, two of which (Smith and Green) are averaging a combined 91.8 yards per game. Stay away.
Standard preamble/dire warning: in the end it’s all the same, but sit and start decisions on Thursday night just feel more pressing and possibly painful, because if you make a poor call one roster spot has already been burned long before Sunday. That sucks (#analysis).
No-brainers: For the injury, passing volume, and general awesomeness reasons mentioned above, only Cameron and Gordon are the must starts. As expected, Gordon has shined brightly in a vertical offense, with 217 receiving yards already over just two games. He’ll be a stud tonight in any format, but especially for you PPR leaguers with his abundance of targets from Hoyer (30.4 percent of Hoyer’s pass attempts have been directed at Gordon so far).
Tweeners: So you’re a Robert Griffin III owner, and though you’re happy that he’s recently been less bad, you’re sad because he’s now on a bye. Fear not, because there’s a quarterback who’s attempted 54 and 38 passes in his two starts, which has resulted in 590 passing yards already with five touchdowns, and two straight games with 18 fantasy points. His name is Brian Hoyer, and he’s the best Week 5 bye replacement this side of Terrelle Pryor. Even after Tuesday’s waiver period, he’s still somehow available on nearly 95 percent of ESPN leagues.
Elsewhere, repeating the above words about the Bills’ running backs seems like a waste of my time and yours. But yeah, do that.
Flex/sleepers: I’m a big Robert Woods pom pom waver tonight, and likely going forward. Woods is quickly developing a connection with his rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, and that’s resulted in 18 targets over the past two weeks. Those targets finally turned into a lot of chunky yardage in Week 4, when Woods finished with 80 yards on just four catches against the Ravens, including a 42-yard touchdown reception.
Also, I suppose Scott Chandler is worth consideration if you’re desperate for a tight end or a high upside flex option. The Browns are giving up a not horrible but still only OK 53.4 yards per game to tight ends.
Stay away: I just really can’t emphasize enough how much you’ll hate yourself for starting Stevie Johnson tonight.