Thursday Night Football
Buffalo @ Cleveland
Over the past two years, 13-of-19 non-Thanksgiving Thursday night games have gone under Vegas' projected combined point total. That 68.4% clip certainly seems like a trend on a nearly 20-game sample size. Because neither team has time to seriously game plan for Thursday nighters -- they get one legit practice on a shortened week -- offenses typically aren't quite as sharp or aggressive, and play with noticeably less purpose. If you have difficult fantasy-lineup decisions, use factors like this as tiebreakers. ... As noted last week by PFF's Mike Clay, the past two seasons of Thursday nighters have produced a brutal 42:42 TD-to-INT ratio by quarterbacks. Designed run plays, however, average 4.33 YPC on Thursday nights as opposed to 4.22 YPC in normal games. The numbers reflect more rushing than passing success on these short weeks.
Fielding arguably the NFL's most banged-up secondary, Buffalo is getting tormented by enemy receivers. Some wideout stat lines against the Bills through four weeks: Torrey Smith 5-166-1; Santonio Holmes 5-154-1; Stephen Hill 3-108-1; Ted Ginn 3-62-1, Danny Amendola 10-104, Julian Edelman 7-79-2. Despite a slow Week 4 game, I'd be awfully hard pressed to bench Josh Gordon based on these numbers. ... The Browns essentially have no running game, so OC Norv Turner has allowed Brian Hoyer to take a whopping 98 dropbacks through two starts. Hoyer has played with aggressiveness and delivers quickly, mitigating opposing pass rush. "He's got that gunslinger mentality," ESPN tape guru Ron Jaworski observed of Hoyer. "He's not gonna check it down. I like a guy who's willing to take chances." Despite the ominous Thursday night passing trends, Hoyer is worth firing up in two-QB leagues against a Buffalo pass defense allowing two passing scores per game. ... Hoyer's target distribution on the season: Gordon 28, Cameron 23, Davone Bess 16, Chris Ogbonnaya 10, Greg Little 8, Bobby Rainey 3. ... Willis McGahee has emerged as the clear frontrunner for carries in Cleveland's backfield, but doesn't know Norv's protections yet, and isn't playing at all in the passing game. So defenses know the run is coming whenever McGahee enters. Working in McGahee's favor is the Bills' allowance of 464 yards on 103 runs (4.50 YPC) to Jets, Panthers, Patriots, and Ravens tailbacks over their first four games, including career days for Shane Vereen and Bilal Powell. McGahee is just barely on the flex radar.
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Cameron is a truly dominant talent. His athleticism jumps off the tape seemingly at least once per Browns offensive possession, and he's consistently winning catches in contested situations. Hoyer loves Cameron, targeting him 11 times in Week 3 and 12 times in Week 4. No. 2 in fantasy tight end scoring behind only Jimmy Graham, fire up Cameron as an every-week TE1. This Bills defense got lit up for a 7-84-1 stat line by Greg Olsen three weeks ago. Olsen is used in the exact same way Cameron is in a very similar offense conceptually. ... Bess has not been a forgotten man since the Brandon Weeden-to-Hoyer switch, starting over Little and serving as Hoyer's No. 3 pass-game option. Unfortunately, Bess lacks any semblance of playmaking ability and isn't worth a roster spot in 12-team standard leagues. Bess has one touchdown over his last 18 games. ... Ogbonnaya and Rainey are rotational change-of-pace backs behind McGahee, and see extensive work as receivers. Either would be a huge long-shot flex play on Thursday night. Ogbonnaya plays the most because he doubles as a fullback and blitz-protection specialist. Since the Trent Richardson trade, Ogbonnaya has played 89 snaps with 16 touches. McGahee has 23 touches among 40 snaps. Rainey has played 39 offensive downs and touched the ball 13 times.
E.J. Manuel's Bills are in for a very tough test on the road against arguably the league's most underrated defense. The Browns haven't allowed an offensive touchdown in five quarters, rank No. 3 in total defense, and have conceded a league-low two passing scores. They're tied for third in sacks. And with Joe Haden, they can all but eliminate top receivers. Best of luck to E.J. ... No. 1 wideout stats versus the Browns so far this year: A.J. Green 7-51; Mike Wallace 1-15; Greg Jennings 3-43; Torrey Smith 7-85. No touchdowns. Stevie Johnson plays in the slot enough that he may avoid Haden Island on a healthy dose of snaps, but he has to be viewed as a relatively dicey, low-ceiling WR3. Johnson is coming off a one-catch game on six targets against Ravens CB Lardarius Webb. ... Manuel's target allocation through four starts: Johnson 35, Robert Woods 26, Scott Chandler 21, Fred Jackson 17, T.J. Graham 12, C.J. Spiller 11, Tashard Choice 2. ... If Johnson gets the Haden treatment, Woods could be an intriguing Week 5 deep sleeper facing off with CBs Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. Playing 97% of Buffalo's offensive snaps, Woods has at least eight targets in back-to-back games, and is coming off a 4-80-1 line against Baltimore. Woods is a quick-footed, classic "Z" receiver whom NFL Films' Greg Cosell compared to Reggie Wayne coming out of college. Woods is well ahead of Graham in the pecking order at this point.
Though never a bad bet for red-zone TDs, Chandler has topped 70 yards in 3-of-47 career games and has a rough Week 5 matchup. Tight end stats versus Cleveland through four weeks: Kyle Rudolph 5-28; Jermaine Gresham 3-53; Tyler Eifert 3-39; Charles Clay 5-54; Dallas Clark 1-8; Ed Dickson 0-0. Those aren't elite fantasy tight ends, but neither is Chandler. The Browns have not permitted a tight end touchdown this year. ... Although F-Jax's role has been larger than even those who cover the Bills anticipated, Spiller's workload is not his problem. He's averaging 19.5 touches a game one year after averaging 15.6 and finishing as the No. 7 fantasy back. The issue has been coach Doug Marrone's unwillingness or inability to get Spiller into space, instead opting to repeatedly slam him into stacked defensive fronts to the point that Spiller is averaging career lows in yards per carry (3.48) and reception (3.22). Spiller remains far more likely to pick up his production than bottom out, even if improvement against Cleveland seems unlikely. Loaded with up-front talent, the Browns are playing top-four run defense and submitting an NFL-low 2.87 yards per carry. Playing through an ankle sprain on a short week, Spiller should be viewed as a boom-or-bust RB2 on Thursday night. ... Jackson has been more productive than Spiller (5.33 YPC), though F-Jax fumbled twice against the Ravens and is also banged up, nursing a "mild" MCL sprain. Averaging 15.3 touches a game in an unforgiving matchup, Jackson is a mid-range flex.
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Bills 17