Thursday Night Football
Houston @ Cincinnati
Team Totals: Bengals 22, Texans 16
As both teams are returning from putrid Week 1 offensive efforts, it’s no surprise Thursday night’s game has the lowest total (38.0) on the Week 2 slate. This game seems likely to get ugly, and there are very few trustworthy fantasy plays on either side. … The Texans showed run-defense vulnerability by yielding a 35/142/1 rushing line to Jaguars backs on Opening Day while losing ILB Brian Cushing (concussion). Unfortunately, Cincy’s three-man backfield has yet to sort itself out. Giovani Bernard was the Week 1 leader in running back snaps (48%), but he logged only eight touches. Joe Mixon led in touches (11) but played just 36% of the downs. “Starter” Jeremy Hill totaled 24 scoreless yards on seven touches at a tiny 16% playing-time clip. I expect this committee to be whittled down from three to two eventually, but at present all members are undesirable flex options. … Andy Dalton was a predictable Week 1 fantasy dud against the Ravens, spreading five turnovers and five sacks among 36 dropbacks. (He did get unlucky with two tipped INTs.) Up front, usual culprits LT Cedric Ogbuehi and C Russell Bodine had especially abysmal games. The Texans’ pass defense wasn’t tested in Week 1 because they fell behind big and Blake Bortles needed to complete only 11 passes in a lopsided Jaguars win, but Houston usually poses a difficult quarterback matchup. The Texans have finished Nos. 6, 7, and 5 in pass-defense DVOA over the past three years, and in his career Dalton has a 3:7 TD-to-INT ratio against Houston in six meetings. It can’t help that Dalton carries a 59.2% completion rate, 19:14 TD-to-INT ratio, and 6.3 YPA in 16 career night games, including a 5-11 record in games played at 7PM ET or later. At all other start times, Dalton’s career record is 51-24-2. We should see signs of improvement when Cincinnati’s schedule loosens up in the near future, but in Week 2 Dalton is a mid-range two-quarterback-league start at best.
Dalton’s Week 1 target distribution: A.J. Green 10; Brandon LaFell 5; Tyler Boyd 4; Mixon 3; Bernard and Cody Core 2; Hill and Tyler Eifert 1. … The Texans have contained Green historically, holding him to stat lines of 5/67/0, 12/121/0, 5/80/0, 5/47/0, and 5/59/0 in five career meetings. The bet here is on Green individually, not past player-versus-team results. Green has drawn double-digit targets in 7-of-10 fully-played games since the beginning of last season. Texans LCB Johnathan Joseph is 34 years old, and RCB Kevin Johnson showed poorly coming off his second foot fracture in as many seasons in Week 1, getting thrown at four times and giving up catches of 20, 17, and 9 yards to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. … LaFell was the Bengals’ starting flanker in Week 1 with Boyd in the slot. Both failed to clear 25 yards against the Ravens and are tough fantasy sells in this week’s lowest-totaled game. … Eifert was a Week 1 flop, playing 89% of the offensive snaps but drawing one target. Cincinnati’s five turnovers and 34-to-26 loss in the time-of-possession battle were major factors in their slew of Opening Day fantasy busts. Unfortunately, Eifert’s Week 2 matchup doesn’t portend a rebound game against a Houston defense that allowed the NFL’s third-fewest yards to tight ends (565) last year. Much like Green, a fantasy start invested into Eifert is a bet on how good a player he is when healthy, and not on any outside factor. ... First-round pick John Ross (knee) was listed as a full participant in practice this week, but the Bengals only held walkthroughs in shorts and t-shirts. Beat writers don't expect to see Ross before Week 3.
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Deshaun Watson gave the Texans a temporary first-drive spark after replacing Tom Savage at halftime of Week 1, but the ballyhooed rookie fizzled thereafter. Slow to process information and deliberate to deliver the ball, Watson absorbed four second-half sacks, committed two turnovers, and continued to demonstrate the wild ball location and frenetic pocket tendencies Watson showed in preseason games. Watson is a better option for the Texans than Savage, but that’s not saying much. On the road in his first NFL start and what’s expected to be a low-scoring game, Watson is a prime target for streamers of the Bengals’ D/ST. … Lamar Miller was the Texans’ Week 1 feature back, totaling 96 yards on 19 touches and playing the second-most raw snaps (64) of any running back in the league. Miller now draws a Vontaze Burfict-less Bengals defense the Ravens’ sub-par backfield tagged for a combined 41/155/1 rushing line last week. Miller’s efficiency has been an ongoing problem as a Texan, but his workload is secure and this matchup is favorable enough for Miller to be approached as a high-floor fantasy RB2. Coach Bill O’Brien has promised “more carries” for rookie D’Onta Foreman, although that wouldn’t take much. Working behind Miller and Tyler Ervin, Foreman played just two snaps against the Jaguars, rushing once.
Watson’s Week 1 target distribution: DeAndre Hopkins 11; Stephen Anderson 4; Tyler Ervin 3; Miller, Braxton Miller, Bruce Ellington, C.J. Fiedorowicz 1. ... Watson completed 6-of-11 second-half targets to Hopkins for 48 yards and a touchdown last week. Watson’s affinity for peppering Hopkins with footballs is promising, although Week 2 opponent Cincinnati yielded the NFL’s second-fewest catches (177) and fourth-fewest touchdowns (12) to wide receivers in 2016, and held Hopkins to 43 scoreless yards on six targets last Week 16. They are also getting back top CB Adam Jones from a one-game suspension. Over his last 17 games including the playoffs, Hopkins has just four TDs and has cleared 75 yards twice. Still, the Texans’ utter lack of ancillary weapons should guarantee “Nuk” enormous weekly target shares. … The Texans get back Jaelen Strong from a one-game ban, and he is slated to start across from Hopkins. A third-year pro, Strong has never reached 60 yards in an NFL game. … In Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, and Anderson, all three of Houston’s tight ends suffered concussions in Week 1. This is a brutal sport.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Texans 17