By Stephen Dolan
The AFC North is once again the focus of Thursday Night Football as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns square off in the national spotlight. The Bengals have started 7-0 for the first time in franchise history after their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers; meanwhile the Cleveland Browns allowed the Cardinals to score 27 unanswered points in a 34-20 defeat to drop the Browns to 2-6. There are plenty of appealing fantasy options between the two teams for the Week 9 matchup.
Play: Andy Dalton (vs. CLE)
Dalton didn’t have his best game against the Steelers on Sunday, but still lead Cincinnati to a victory. Dalton completed 23 of his 38 pass attempts for 231 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice; he didn’t get into a rhythm until late in the fourth quarter when he found A.J. Green for the go-ahead touchdown. Dalton matches up against a Browns defense that was torched by Carson Palmer on Sunday for 374 yards and four touchdowns.
Pass: Johnny Manziel (vs. CIN)
Manziel gets the start for the Browns over a battered Josh McCown. The former Heisman Trophy winner has not gotten much work this season, with just 50 pass attempts thus far, and he has not completed more than 55 percent of his passes when attempting six or more in a game this season. Manziel’s rust could slow down the Browns offense and it doesn’t help that he is facing a Bengals defense that intercepted Ben Roethlisberger three times on Sunday. Pass on Manziel.
Play: Giovani Bernard (vs. CLE)
Bernard didn’t get a lot of looks on Sunday in Pittsburgh and the Bengals’ offense struggled. Could be a coincidence but entering Sunday, Bernard was picking up yards on the ground and through the air for Cincinnati, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown while also picking up 23 yards in the passing game in Week 7 against the Bills. Bernard splits time with Jeremy Hill making him a volatile option but he is a better bet than anyone on the Browns.
Pass: Isaiah Crowell (vs. CIN)
Crowell has been a nonfactor for the Cleveland offense and that trend continued on Sunday. He rushed 10 times for 14 yards while getting outrushed by McCown and caught one pass for 12 yards. Crowell has not rushed for more than 72 yards in any game this season and has been held to fewer than 50 rushing yards in each of his last four games. Despite Cincinnati allowing 116 yards on the ground to Pittsburgh on just 19 carries on Sunday, pass on Crowell.
Play: A.J. Green (vs. CLE)
Green is by far Dalton’s favorite target, evident by his 17 targets on Sunday and his 50 targets on the season. He caught 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against Pittsburgh, marking the first time he recorded a touchdown since he hauled in two touchdowns in a 227-yard performance against the Ravens on September 27. Green is facing a Browns secondary that allowed three Arizona receivers to post 70 or more receiving yards on Sunday. Start Green with confidence.
Pass: Travis Benjamin (vs. CIN)
Benjamin burst onto the scene in Week 2 and was a solid fantasy option for a five-game stretch but has cooled off of late. He posted four receptions for 47 yards against the Rams in Week 7 and followed that up with just three receptions for 26 yards against Arizona. He has not recorded a touchdown reception after recording four touchdowns in the first three weeks of the season. Benjamin has the misfortune of facing a Bengals secondary that did not allow a single Steelers wide receiver to record more than 50 receiving yards on Sunday afternoon. Pass on Benjamin.
Play: Gary Barnidge (vs. CIN)
Barnidge has emerged into one of the top pass catching tight ends in the NFL for Cleveland this season and his pass-catching prowess was on display against the Cardinals, catching seven of his 11 targets for 53 yards and a touchdown. Barnidge has been McCown’s top target in the red zone leading to big fantasy points. He has caught six touchdown passes over the last six weeks making him a must-play on Thursday night against the Bengals.
Pass: Tyler Eifert (vs. CLE)
Eifert is no slouch of a tight end either as he has posted 120 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the two weeks leading up to Sunday, but Pittsburgh did a good job of bottling him up to the tune of four catches for 39 yards and no touchdowns. Eifert is a good option, but is the secondary option behind Green and the secondary play at tight end behind Barnidge. Pass on Eifert.
Play: Travis Coons (vs. CIN)
Pass: Mike Nugent (vs. CLE)
Steve Dolan is an MBA student at Villanova University and a graduate of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University. Steve co-founded Whiz Wit Sports, a Philadelphia-centric sports blog, in March 2011 growing the site to win PHL 17’s Best Local Blogger on the Philly Hot List in 2013.