This article is part of our DraftKings NFL series.
A couple months ago, this Monday Night Football matchup would have looked like a must-see game, but the Browns have since underachieved and the Bengals recently lost Ja'Marr Chase due to a hip injury. Nevertheless, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch.
Joe Burrow is coming off consecutive 300-plus passing yards and three touchdown performances, Nick Chubb continues to perform with elite efficiency, and now Tee Higgins has the chance to show what he can do as the alpha receiver in Cincinnati. Unsurprisingly, given the Chase news, we've seen the line fluctuate quite a bit for this game. The total began at 47, briefly went up to 47.5 and has since plummeted to 45 at most sportsbooks. The Bengals remain favorites and have an implied total of 24 while the Browns check in as home underdogs with an implied total of 21.
Joe Burrow ($11,400 DK, $17,000 FD) enters this game having destroyed his competition the last two weeks. Volume shouldn't be an issue for Burrow as the Bengals have the third-highest pass rate over expectation. That's translated to him taking to the air at least 30 times in every game this season, and less than 35 times only once. Burrow's attempts have clustered around the 35-attempt mark, as he's thrown 35-37 passes in four of seven games. Interestingly, despite his performance the last two weeks, Burrow has above-average but not elite efficiency marks. He has averaged 8.0 adjusted yards per attempt (eighth highest in the league), a 5.6 percent touchdown rate (fifth) and 11.3 yards per completion (16th). In terms of matchup, Cleveland has the fifth-worst pass defense as measured by DVOA. That hasn't led to big fantasy performances by opposing quarterbacks, who have averaged 15.5 fantasy points — 18th highest in the league. It's hard to bet against Burrow, but captaining him on DraftKings accounts for 34.2 percent of salary. His 28.3 percent on FanDuel is more palatable. The most likely path to Burrow reaching ceiling performance is if the Browns can keep the game close with their offense.
Jacoby Brissett ($9,200 DK, $14,000 FD) has a fairly cheap price, rightly so. He has surpassed 15 points in four of seven games, giving him something of a safe floor. However, he has failed to top 17.9 points. Perhaps surprisingly, Brissett has taken to the air quite a bit, topping 30 passing attempts in five of seven games. Like Burrow, he has a relatively narrow band of volume, as he has 31-35 pass attempts in four of seven weeks. He's well below Burrow in all the efficiency metrics listed above (6.3 adjusted yards per attempt, 2.6 percent touchdown rate, 10.8 yards per completion). The Bengals rank seventh in pass DVOA and have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. It is worth noting the Bengals have faced Mitch Trubisky, Cooper Rush, Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota. All in all, there's not much ceiling for Brissett and this doesn't appear to be the game for him to reach it.
Joe Mixon ($9,400 DK, $13,000 FD) is the clear lead back in Cincinnati, but his volume has fluctuated more than may be expected. He's topped 30 touches once, 25 touches twice and 20 touches four times in seven games. In his last three games, he's reached 20 touches only once and had 17 and 12 in the other two. He's lacked explosiveness, tallying only one rush of at least 20 yards in 121 attempts. Samaje Perine ($4,800 DK, $5,000 FD) has logged double-digit touches only once this season and less than five in five of seven games. Variance can always occur but on paper there's no reason to roster Perine. The Browns have the sixth-worst run defense as measured by DVOA and have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
Nick Chubb ($10,400 DK, $15,000 FD) has been among the most efficient runners in the league and is priced accordingly — the second-most expensive player on each site. There's no debate about Chubb's skill, so let's jump right into volume. There's both good and bad news. The good news is that the Browns have started to clearly prioritize Chubb over Kareem Hunt ($5,600 DK, $10,000 FD) in the offense. The bad news is that the Browns have played from behind a lot, which has forced them to take to the air. The matchup is relatively tough as the Bengals rank 10th in rush defense DVOA and have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. That's not ideal, but if any back can overcome the matchup, Chubb is near the top of that list. Hunt has been a non-factor in the offense most of the season — particularly lately — and in a tough matchup playing him again is relying on variance. He does have a more sustained role than Perine.
There's a case to play each of the lead backs, but playing them in the same lineup is a negative correlation move. Those can pay off on a showdown slate more than in a traditional Sunday slate of games, but it's difficult to see both Chubb and Mixon posting ceiling games.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The absence of Chase opens 10.6 targets per game and 34.5 percent of air yards in Cincinnati. Regardless of matchup and even volume — to a lesser degree — that makes all Bengals pass catchers a value because their prices were set with Chase factored in. Chase had 30 more targets than the next most targeted player in the Cincinnati offense, so there's a lot of room for the new hierarchy to play out. Tee Higgins ($8,000 DK, $13,500 FD) is the obvious choice to take over as the alpha, and has a 22 percent target per route run and a 2.28 yard per route run — most on the team even when Chase was in the picture. I'd be willing to roster him in any contest and is a strong choice to captain. Two weeks ago, coach Zac Taylor noted that the team needed to get Tyler Boyd ($6,400 DK, $12,500 FD) more involved. That's happened as he has 15 combined targets across the last two games and erupted for 155 yards in Week 7 against Atlanta. In a typical week, I'd say this is the perfect time to move away from Boyd because he's likely to be popular with his ceiling performance on many players' minds. But, in the absence of Chase, he's a good value. Hayden Hurst ($5,200 DK, $8,000 FD) is the next most established pass catcher in the offense. He's seen at least seven targets in four games this season. That should be a safe projection with the chance for more Monday night. Mike Thomas ($1,200 DK, $5,500 FD) has seen his snap rate spike in the absence of any receiver in the offense. He's played more than two-thirds of offensive snaps in two games this season, earning five and three targets, respectively. He's in play as a punt. The Browns are roughly league-average in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers this season, which isn't enough to offset the potential value that all pass catchers will present in the absence of Chase.
From an opportunity perspective, the Browns' offense has been fairly consistent. Amari Cooper ($7,600 DK, $11,000 FD) leads the team in routes run and targets per route run. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cooper is his 11.2 aDOT. That puts him in similar territory to Courtland Sutton and Mike Williams — with Cooper having the worst efficiency of the trio. Donovan Peoples-Jones ($5,000 DK, $8,000 FD) is second on the team in routes run and had an identical target share to David Njoku — who are out for Monday's game. Peoples-Jones hasn't been particularly efficient (1.55 yards per route run), but he's recorded at least four catches in four consecutive games and topped 70 yards in three. To start the season, Peoples-Jones' production was linked closely to Brissett's passing volume. It was encouraging that he saw six targets in Week 7, when Brissett only attempted 27 passes. The ongoing absence of Njoku should help him. Speaking of Njoku's absence, Harrison Bryant ($4,000 DK, $7,000 FD) is a nice cheaper alternative to Hurst. It's unclear whether the Browns would simply plug Bryant into the same that Njoku occupied, but if they do Bryant is a great value. Pharaoh Brown ($200 DK, 5,000 FD) will be a name to monitor when inactives are released. He looks likely to miss the game due to a concussion, and if he is out, Bryant becomes an even stronger play. If Brown is in, he's a decent punt play and would open spending for the rest of the roster considerably. We can at least mention David Bell ($2,400 DK, $6,5000 FD), but he has seen more than one target in only two games this season.
Evan McPherson ($4,600 DK, $9,000 FD) might be among the most well-known kickers in the league after a standout rookie season and a number of clutch kicks during Cincinnati's improbable playoff run in 2021. Most of his struggles came in the team's first game this season, but it is worth noting that he has one or fewer field goals each of the last three weeks. That's not likely a trend that will continue.
Cade York ($4,400 DK, $8,500 FD) has had a solid rookie season. He's only 5-for-8 in his last three games, though two of those misses have come from more than 50 yards. Typically, kickers are nice roster fill-ins at a reasonable price, but with the likes of Bryant, Thomas and even Brown (add Hurst on FD) as reasonably cheap options, I'm not rushing to roster either kicker in this game.
As is often the case, this is where things get counterintuitive. Defensive scoring on each site is heavily skewed toward sacks and turnovers and Burrow has been sacked at least three times in four of seven games this season. He's lost a fumble once and has thrown only one interception since Week 1, but Myles Garrett and the Browns ($3,800 DK, $9,000 FD) pass rush should get to him.
Meanwhile, Brissett was sacked only five teams through Cleveland's first five games. In two games since, he's been sacked nine times. The Bengals ($4,200 DK, $9,500 FD) have only a 4.78 percent sack rate this season, so don't expect them to take down Brissett regularly. On the other hand, Brissett has thrown four interceptions in his last four games. If game script goes as expected, he'll likely be throwing to keep the Browns in the game, in turn opening up more opportunities for mistakes.
The same caveat on values applies that was discussed for kickers, but neither defense is a bad play.