*Pre-editor post (forgive any typos)
It pains me to see how close the Cleveland Browns were to outright winning the AFC North this season. They still have a shot at it, but it’s a long shot…and it should have even been this close. So many missed opportunities, so many coaching blunders by ‘Wonder Hue’, the coaching prodigy, who then joined the Bengals and they haven’t won a game since.
In this game, Carolina jumped on the Browns right away…an opening drive TD, 7-0. Baker Mayfield popped a 66-yard pass on the Panthers to open the game for their offense…and an eventual TD to tie the game. It was 17-17 at the half. 20-17 Carolina after three quarters.
Mayfield then put the team on his back, led a TD drive and an FG (should’ve been a TD drive) and the Browns took a 26-20 lead and held off a couple late Panthers drives to get the win.
Cleveland goes to 5-7-1, if they can win out and Baltimore loses one of their next two combined with losing to the Browns Week 17…the Ravens would end up 8-8 and the Browns 8-7-1. The Steelers are 7-5-1 now but they will be favored to lose this week (NE) and next (NO) and potentially end up 8-7-1 – and I believe the Browns would win a tiebreaker (better conference record).
I think Baltimore will fall and set up the Browns, and I believe the Steelers will fall to set up the Browns – the onus is on the Browns to win every game and get a shot at the most amazing football story of 2018. If the Browns beat Denver this week, possible, then beat Cincy Week 16…it sets up a Week 17 showdown with the Ravens that would be surreal.
The Carolina free-fall continues…five losses in-a-row. The Panthers are 6-7 with two games against the Saints remaining…no way they get to 9-7. 8-8 at best, likely 7-9 finish and a Ron Rivera firing by the new owner.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- I have to start with rookie TE Ian Thomas (9-77-0/11)…
What a very good game from the rookie. In prior stints starting with Greg Olsen out, Thomas was a bit player…1-2 targets one game, 3-4 the next, more 1-2s than 3-4s and no one cared. With Olsen officially out for good, Thomas sprung up to a season-high 11 targets and 9 catches.
Part of this was the game plan, the Browns are tougher on WRs and softer on TEs. But the connection with Cam and route running were impressive here…it was like a real ‘connection’, a pitch and catch effort. Thomas fell a yard short of a TD in this game on one of his catches or his value would rocket even higher this week off waivers (for most leagues he’s was on waivers still, this week).
I could see Thomas was a 5-55-1 game in Week 15…or falls away to 2-24-0 and frustration for fantasy. What I saw here – he’s definitely worth a shot even in the bad matchup with New Orleans.
-- As impressive, more impressive in this game…Curtis Samuel (4-80-0/8).
Let me just say this about Samuel’s game here, that looks OK/not awesome for fantasy on the surface – had a 50+ yard TD in the bag, beat his coverage by 3+ yards and was streaking deep and Cam launched one very short and the pass ended up a near INT instead of an easy, long TD.
Secondly, Samuel was once again a trusted end zone look…from five yards out, a quick foot-shuffle and blast off to the right, breaking his coverage man’s ankles…wide-open…but Samuel, inexplicably, turned the wrong way and Cam put the ball right where Samuel should have turned and got an easy TD. Instead, an incompletion.
We weren’t far from 6-140-2 from Samuel here…because he’s awesome and fully starting. ‘The guy’.
D.J. Moore (5-67-0/8) is a bulldog after the catch, like an Alvin Kamara after the catch, but he struggles getting open and making catches consistently. Samuel is the money of the two right now, but Moore is doing well as well…somewhat helped by the presence of Samuel.
-- Want to read something shocking about Cam Newton (26-42 for 265 yards, 0 TD/1 INT, 5-23-0)? Cam has run for 1 TD in his past 10 games and none in his last six games. Cam ran for 3 TDs his first three games and has just stopped running like normal since…giving rise to the Christian McCaffrey TD explosion.
I don’t know if it’s Cam’s shoulder…or if he’s checking out or what, but Cam has no extra reason to run/take hits in this lost season now. If Cam isn’t rushing for TDs…he’s suspect QB1 value.
-- Baker Mayfield’s (18-22 for 238 yards, 1 TD/0 INT) numbers since Hue was booted…
73.2% Comp. Pct., 279.6 yards, 2.2 TDs/0.80 INTs per game
Side note, in this game…Rashard Higgins dropped a 30+ yard TD catch on Baker.
-- David Njoku (3-35-0/4)… OK, I’ll tap out. One TD in his past 6 games. Under 40 yards in four of his last 6 games. He’s not cashing in on good matchups (like last week), so we need to find hope somewhere else. I’d rather hope Evan Engram pops this week.
-- Damarious Randall (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD) was hot fire after 7 weeks and then he got hurt and muddled around for a few weeks, but he’s back now – 8.5 tackles per game the past two weeks. One of the best CBs in IDP.
-- Fantasy Playoff Notes from these two teams…
The Browns are at DEN, and v. CIN the next two weeks…with Chris Harris gone, it’s not a bad run for Baker and his gang. I like the Browns defense in both games as well. They’ve held three of their last 4 opponents to 20 or fewer points…and Houston was the outlier with 29 points, but 7 of those off a pick-six.
The Panthers have NO and ATL the next two weeks, could be a nice run…but the Panthers are free-falling. I think they’ll be OK for CMC and Samuel/DJM/Thomas ahead, but the Saints could finish them off with impunity this week.
Snap Counts of Interest…
42 = Landry
38 = Callaway
26 = Higgins
19 = Perriman
69 = Samuel
67 = DJ Moore
38 = Wright
29 = Funchess