Thursday Night Football
Cleveland @ Baltimore
Ray Rice led the NFL in 2011 yards from scrimmage (2,068) and is on pace for 2,107 this year. He also annually lights up the Browns. In Rice's past seven meetings with Cleveland, he has 754 yards on 144 carries (5.24 YPC), chipping in three catches a game. Some folks initially worried that Baltimore's new no-huddle attack would affect Rice's workload, but he's averaging 20 touches per week and a career-high 5.83 yards per carry. He's second in fantasy scoring among running backs. It's safe to say Rice is going to be alright. ... While Torrey Smith has yet to exhibit the kind of box-score consistency that would earn him fantasy owners' trust, I think he should be locked into lineups as a WR3 for Thursday's affair. Leading Baltimore in targets, Smith worked Patriots CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington last Sunday night for six catches, 127 yards, and two touchdowns following the tragic passing of his younger brother. I wouldn't be surprised if Smith played the rest of the season on a mission and the Ravens continue to feed him the rock. He's certainly got a favorable Week 4 matchup. Cleveland's Joe Haden-less pass defense has been bullied by Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick the past two weeks, allowing the Bengals and Bills' underwhelming quarterbacks to combine for 46-of-66 passing (69.7 percent), 526 yards (7.97 YPA), and a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Baltimore projects to have passing success on Thursday night.
The Ravens are essentially running a four-wide offense with Smith and Jacoby Jones outside and Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin as the two slot receivers. Pitta has been Joe Flacco's go-to guy inside the numbers, and I don't think that's going to change. Pitta's skill set is not so imposing that defenses would try to take him away with brackets, and the mere fact that Baltimore trots out four receivers consistently makes the whole crew tougher to assign heavy coverage. And then you've got Rice to worry about. Baltimore's offense is for real. Start Rice, start Pitta, start Smith, and start Flacco. Flacco ranks sixth in quarterback scoring and is legitimately headed for his long-awaited fantasy breakout. ... Flacco's target distribution through three weeks: Pitta 31, Rice 19, Smith 18, Boldin 16, Ed Dickson 9, Jones 9. ... Jones has 153 yards and a touchdown on the season, but is seeing 41.3 percent of the snaps and three targets a game. There is no chance he'll sustain his efficiency. Jones isn't worth a fantasy roster spot. ... Boldin is in a tough spot. He's essentially "competing" with Pitta for targets underneath and down the seam, and Pitta is open more than him. Boldin also has yet to make a single big play after the catch. He's a WR4 until we see more.
I've discussed this in the weekly Matchups column a couple of times: The Ravens no longer have an imposing defense from a fantasy start-sit standpoint. Baltimore does not rush the passer or stop the run at nearly the rate it did with Terrell Suggs, serving up 7.9 yards per pass attempt and a 66.4 completion rate. They're 18th against the run and have already surrendered five rushing touchdowns. Although Baltimore won the game, Tom Brady carved up the Ravens' pass defense last Sunday night, a week after struggling Michael Vick lit it up for 371 passing yards. Baltimore's defense may be a bit better than some of these early stats suggest due to the small sample size, but it isn't a scary, shutdown unit anymore. If Brandon Weeden plays like he did in Week 2, I think the Browns can surprise some people and move the ball offensively at M&T Bank Stadium. If Weeden plays like it's Week 1 or 3, then the Ravens' defense will look every bit as dominant as it has been for so many years. ... Weeden's struggles have been attributable to performance under duress and a tendency to lock onto his first read. His first read was most commonly Mohamed Massaquoi in the initial three weeks, and Massaquoi (hamstring) is out for this game. While I don't think you bench fantasy players simply because they're playing the Ravens any longer, I do think you start their fantasy defense Thursday night. This all may seem contradictory, but I don't think it really is. I am going to bet against Weeden until he proves that he's worth betting on.
Massaquoi, Greg Little, and rookie Travis Benjamin have been Cleveland's top three receivers on the year, while supplemental pick Josh Gordon is playing under 60 percent of the snaps and has yet to exceed 40 yards in a game. The four-man rotation will reduce to a three-headed monster of Little, Benjamin, and Gordon in Baltimore. Although the Ravens have shown vulnerabilities to the pass -- particularly RCB Cary Williams -- it's hard to imagine starting any Cleveland pass catcher in a fantasy league. Coach Pat Shurmur hinted this week at cutting Little's field time due to drops, and Little will play most of his snaps in the slot Thursday night against Ravens top CB Lardarius Webb. Benjamin and Gordon are rotating rookies. TE Jordan Cameron has a highly intriguing athletic skill set, but isn't a regular on offense. ... Trent Richardson is the best fantasy player the Browns have. His Thursday night fantasy outlook is largely dependent on Weeden and the rest of the offense's ability to generate ball movement. I think there is enough potential for Cleveland to do so to get Richardson into my lineup as an RB2/flex. Richardson's passing-game role is picking up, he brings to the table elite talent, and he will get the football in scoring position. Start 'em.
Score Prediction: Ravens 30, Browns 17
Start 'Em or Sit 'Em: Thursday night - Browns @ Ravens
Is Torrey Smith likely to have another big week? Does Dennis Pitta deserve to be an every week starter and should Trent Richardson be worthy of a start against the Ravens defense? Tiffany Simons and Matt Stroup examine those players and more in their Thursday night fantasy preview.
Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.