Rapid React: Bills vs. Browns

This week’s Thursday night contest wasn’t terrible for a change but potential serious injuries to both starting quarterbacks cast a pall over an otherwise entertaining game. The 37-24 victory gave the Browns a 3-2 record that places them in sole possession of first place in an AFC North division that looked to be one of the most competitive entering 2013. Maybe the Trent Richardson trade wasn’t a white flag after all. The win snapped Cleveland’s NFL-long 25-game losing streak in games they trailed by 8+ points. Credit must be given to the Browns’ aggressiveness late, as the team threw the ball downfield on 3rd-and-18 with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter at their own 35-yard line up three points, picking up the first down in the process. Moreover, the Browns remained on the attack, throwing yet again on the ensuing first down (resulting in a 16-yard gain). This all seems so obvious, but so many teams would have settled for a run and then punted in this situation. Instead, the drive led to a field goal, putting them up two scores instead of one. Then again, that was countered by the Browns hilariously kicking an extra point up 12 with 1:44 left in the game. It's almost as if coaches struggle with math.

Brian Hoyer’s stats haven’t jumped off the page, but when it comes to pocket awareness and athleticism, his injury that sure looks season ending should hurt the Browns. In fantasy terms, I first assumed it would be a blow to Jordan Cameron, who’s caught four of his five touchdowns this season over the two games in which Hoyer started. However, the breakout tight end has averaged 11.5 targets and 78.5 yards with Hoyer at the helm compared to 10.0 targets and 101.5 yards with Weeden. Thursday night was easily Cameron’s worst game of the season, and Weeden took over almost immediately, but he was coming off an injury and had literally seen zero practice reps leading up to the contest, so I think it’s safe to write this one off. The touchdown production may be something that suffers (Weeden can wing it downfield, but he lacks accuracy and touch, evident by him overthrowing Cameron in the end zone Thursday), but I still would have a hard time not ranking Cameron as the No. 2 fantasy tight end right now (maybe in two weeks it’s Rob Gronkowski, but the point remains: Cameron should continue to be a beast even with the QB change).

To put it mildly, Willis McGahee looked slow and like the announcers kept saying, the third-oldest running back in the NFL. He simply wasn’t quick enough to hit the holes. That said, he should only be better the more in shape and familiar with his new team’s system he gets moving forward. More importantly, McGahee looks like a clear workhorse, a dying breed in the NFL these days. Even if it comes with an ugly YPC, in this landscape, McGahee might very well be a top-20/25 fantasy back from here on out thanks simply to attrition. He’s a must own.

C.J. Spiller’s fantasy night was salvaged solely by his 54-yard touchdown run, as he clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent. Thankfully, he now gets 10 days to recover. Fred Jackson (the oldest RB in the league) continues to defy my expectations, totaling 93 yards and two touchdowns against a tough Browns run defense…Kiko Alonso, who entered tied for the NFL-lead with four interceptions as a linebacker who’s a rookie (to put this in perspective, the Steelers and Raiders have yet to record a single pick this season), had another impressive effort, recording 12 tackles and acting as a major disruption to Cleveland’s offense. He’s easily been the most impressive rookie on defense so far in 2013…Travis Benjamin was absolutely a difference maker in this game.

E.J. Manuel’s injury didn’t look as bad as Hoyer’s at the time (but who knows?), but the rookie could have easily ran out of bounds on the play, instead incurring a direct hit to his knee. Let’s hope he’s OK, because Jeff Tuel was brutal, to put it mildly. He went 8-for-20 while getting 4.0 YPA. In fact, during 27 plays after Tuel took over, the Bills produced 76 yards. That’s not ideal…As if the QB injuries weren’t bad enough, tough break for Stevie Johnson owners too. His absence led to Robert Woods seeing 13 targets, but that also unfortunately led to Joe Haden switching over to him, resulting in just five catches for 64 yards. Still, Woods has now seen a whopping 31 targets over the past three games, and he looks plenty competent. Assuming Manuel returns, the rookie wideout can absolutely be fantasy relevant from here on out…Josh Gordon dropped what would have easily been a 90-yard touchdown during the first drive, but he still settled for 86 receiving yards and a highlight worthy TD catch. Brandon Weeden has plenty of faults, but an unwillingness to throw downfield isn’t one of them, which should benefit Gordon, as all seven of his career TD receptions have come from 20+ yards out. Gordon should be treated as a top-15 fantasy wide receiver right now.

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