Last updated: September 5th at 4:11pm ET.
Team Totals: Browns 25, Titans 20
Firing up Cleveland’s D/ST is my favorite way to approach the Titans’ offense this week; keyed by an ultra-talented front of RE Olivier Vernon, LE Myles Garrett, DT Sheldon Richardson, and NT Larry Ogunjobi, the Browns piled up five sacks in just over one quarter in their third preseason game, while Tennessee coughed up seven sacks in its regular season dress rehearsal against the Steelers. The Titans’ offensive line is missing LT Taylor Lewan(suspension), searching for any possible solution at right guard, and trotting out pass-pro lability RT Jack Conklin, who tore his ACL last December. Including playoffs, shell-shocked Marcus Mariota has averaged 3.1 sacks taken per game with 23 turnovers over his last 24 starts. … Derrick Henry is a high-risk RB2 option as a five-point road dog in a game where Tennessee may struggle to string together drives and end up falling behind, which would propel passing-game back Dion Lewis into more snaps. It doesn’t help that Henry missed most of camp with a foot/calf injury, curtailing his practice time in new OC Arthur Smith’s offense. If Henry makes it out of Week 1 setback free, he will project as a Week 2 buy-low play back home in Nashville versus the Andrew Luck-less Colts.
With Ryan Tannehill shortening Mariota’s leash on a team that wants to win by running the ball and playing good defense, Tennessee’s passing game is at fantasy dumpster-fire risk raised by the additions of Adam Humphries and second-round pick A.J. Brown plus Delanie Walker’s return from last Week 1’s year-ending ankle fracture/dislocation. Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe were listed as the Titans’ starting receivers on their post-cuts depth chart. Tennessee’s passing pie is intended to be small, there are many “mouths to feed,” and Mariota’s efficiency has worsened each year he’s been in the league. Considering all of the pressure Mariota projects to face in this matchup, low-aDOT slot man Humphries projects as Tennessee’s best bet for targets on quick-hitting routes designed to counteract the Browns’ pass rush.
One fantasy concern on both sides involves snaps and pace. The Titans finished 29th in offensive plays in Mike Vrabel’s first year as coach, while Cleveland ranked 29th from Weeks 9-17 in a slowed-down offense after Freddie Kitchens replaced Hue Jackson as playcaller. Tennessee’s defense is no pushover after allowing the NFL’s third-fewest points and returns 9-of-11 starters with upgrades at edge rusher (Cameron Wake) and strong safety (Kenny Vaccaro). I ranked Baker Mayfield as my season-long QB3 and would undoubtedly start him, but I’m tempering expectations for a ceiling week. Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler-less offensive line was an issue this preseason, and in Wake, game-wrecking DL Jurell Casey, and sophomore breakout candidate OLB Harold Landry, the Titans have enough up-front firepower to take advantage. … Expectations should be as lofty as ever for Nick Chubb as a home-favorite bellcow facing a Titans run defense that ranked a middling 15th in DVOA last year with Duke Johnson gone to Houston, potentially unlocking Chubb’s pass-catching upside after Chubb averaged just 2.0 catches per game in his 2018 starts. A locked-in RB1, Chubb correlates perfectly with the Browns’ D/ST in DFS combinations.
The most-severe mismatch on either side of Titans-Browns pits Odell Beckham versus Titans LCB Adoree Jackson and RCB Malcolm Butler, who respectively allowed the third- and eighth-most yards among NFL cornerbacks last season. Plus-sized and physical Titans slot CB Logan Ryan is a tough draw for Jarvis Landry inside, and David Njoku will have his hands full with All-Pro FS Kevin Byard. All of this adds up to a potential funnel situation for OBJ, who the Browns are incentivized to feature as their prized offseason acquisition in front of the Dog Pound. Unfortunately, Beckham revealed Thursday that a training-camp hip injury has prevented him from “opening up and sprinting” in recent days. Beckham is practicing fully, however. … I wound up ranking Landry as a season-long WR4 and view him accordingly here. Landry’s weekly targets were slashed from 11.8 in Hue-coached games to 6.9 under Kitchens, and his volume projection took another hit when Beckham was acquired. … I expect a top-ten tight end season for Njoku, albeit one flush with ups and downs and touchdown dependency as the Browns’ third pass option at best after Njoku’s targets per game dipped from 6.4 to 4.6 on Kitchens’ watch. … Rashard Higgins won Browns third-receiver duties going away when Antonio Callaway showed up to camp out of shape, then was hit with a four-game suspension. Mayfield and Higgins formed a tight on-field bond last year, connecting on 33-of-43 passes (77%) for 487 yards (14.8 YPR) and four touchdowns. 70% of those completions moved the chains. A technician in the mold of a poor man’s Keenan Allen, Higgins is a Week 1 DFS sleeper at near minimum cost, especially with Beckham’s health suddenly in question. … Final-cuts trade acquisition Taywan Taylor should fill in as Callaway’s situational deep-threat replacement in September.
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Titans 17