Week 9 of the NFL season begins Thursday night with an AFC North division matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
The undefeated Bengals escaped Pittsburgh with a 16-10 victory last week, making a fourth-quarter comeback to spoil quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the Steelers lineup.
Cincinnati should have no trouble keeping its perfect record intact against the lowly Browns. Here’s some start/sit advice for fantasy owners ahead of “Thursday Night Football.”
Quarterback: You should not start Johnny Manziel — who’s only playing because Josh McCown is injured — unless you are in a deep, two-quarterback league and have no other options. The only hope for Manziel to be fantasy relevant is if he makes a few good plays with his legs and picks up rushing yards and touchdowns. The Bengals have given up just three rushing touchdowns all season, though.
Running Backs: Isaiah Crowell is the starter, but he hasn’t yet hit the 75-yard mark and his last touchdown was in Week 2. He’s not a smart start. Duke Johnson Jr. also isn’t worth starting in any type of fantasy league. He hasn’t rushed for more than 50 yards in any of the eight Cleveland games this season, and he’s averaging just two yards per carry.
Wide Receivers: Travis Benjamin is the only Browns wide receiver worth the risk, and he only should be played in a flex spot. He has tallied 75 or more receiving yards in five of eight games, but he’s totaled just seven receptions for 73 yards and zero touchdowns in the last two games.
Tight End: Gary Barnidge has been a nice surprise for fantasy owners as a top 12 tight end this season. He’s received at least six targets and has a total of six touchdowns in his last six games. Manziel isn’t as good of a passer as McCown, but Barnidge still should be productive enough for fantasy owners to start him against a stingy Cincy defense.
Defense: Cleveland ranks dead last in run defense and 24th in pass defense, while also giving up 27 points per game. Simply put: don’t consider playing this defense for a second.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton should rebound after a mediocre performance in Week 8 against the Steelers. He’s averaging 278 pass yards per game with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, and the Browns defense has given up the fourth-most passing touchdowns on the season.
Running Back: Cleveland has the worst run defense in the league in terms of yards allowed overall and yards allowed per game. The Browns also have given up eight rushing touchdowns.
This is the perfect week to trust both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Hill owns an 89-78 advantage in carries and a 5-2 edge in touchdowns, but Bernard has been more effective with a 5.6 yards per carry average, which is 2.3 yards better than Hill. Both players are smart starts Thursday night.
Wide Receivers: Browns cornerback Joe Haden, the only elite player on the Cleveland defense, has been ruled out with an injury, so Bengals No. 1 receiver A.J. Green should have another monster game. He had 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in Week 8, and there’s a pretty good chance of him replicating that success against a Browns defense that is inferior to the Steelers’.
Marvin Jones is worth a start in deep leagues as a flex play or bye week replacement. He’s received five or more targets in three straight games. Mohamed Sanu is not worth starting.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert has been one of the most productive fantasy tight ends all season. In fact, the only tight end with more touchdowns is Rob Gronkowski. Eifert is averaging 11.9 yards per catch and has three touchdowns in the last three games. He’s a must-start against a weak Browns defense.
Defense: The Bengals defense ranks 23rd in pass yards per game and 18th in rush yards per game, but it only gives up 17.3 points on average, which is the seventh-best mark in the league. The Browns are 25th in points scored per game, so you should feel plenty confident starting the Cincinnati defense against an Cleveland offense led by a below-average quarterback in Manziel.
Thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports Images