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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Week 4 Cleveland Browns vs. Dallas Cowboys

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The Browns head to Dallas for an important Week 4 matchup against the Cowboys, who are still trying to turn their season around after a tough 1-2 start. Can Dak Prescott get the Cowboys back to .500, or will Baker Mayfield and company spoil things for the Cowboys? For the 2020 NFL season, Matt Savoca will be providing his weekly NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown column, going through every single game and offensive and defensive matchup, every week of the season. For your viewing convenience, we have broken up the matchups breakdown into several single columns, each one covering a single game. You can find links to every game right here. We have 12 games on tap for Week 4 NFL DFS and NFL Fantasy Football, so let’s dive in. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into Browns-Cowboys for your NFL DFS lineups.

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Cleveland Browns (25.5) at Dallas Cowboys (30.5) – 1 p.m. EST

Cleveland Passing Game

The Browns are flying high after a two-game win streak (albeit against struggling squads in the Bengals and Washington), much in thanks to an efficient Baker Mayfield, who has passed for the seventh-highest passing expected points added since his putrid Week 1 against the Ravens. Facing Washington in Week 3, Mayfield was particularly effective on early downs, with an impressive 62% EPA success rate, 44% first down rate and a completion percentage over expected (CPOE) of 8.8%. In Week 4 he’ll face a Dallas Cowboys secondary that ranks 28th in coverage rating and 20th in pass rush rating according to PFF. With the Cowboys likely pushing the tempo on offense, having displayed a consistently pass-happy approach this season, it’s very likely that Mayfield and the Browns will find themselves in a game environment where they’re forced to abandon their team identity as a running back-oriented team and stay in the game through the air.

Odell Beckham, at least in usage, has returned to the upper echelon of wideouts in the NFL. He ranks sixth in true air yard share, and eighth in both true target share and true weighted opportunity share. Alarmingly, though, he’s yet to record a game this season with more than four catches or more than 74 yards receiving. The opportunity is encouraging, but he’s somewhat devalued due to Cleveland’s typically slow-paced offense. He ranks just 18th among receivers and 27th overall in quality opportunities, an indicator he needs to be extremely efficient on his looks or score a touchdown to be a value play in fantasy lineups. As the 21st-highest-priced wide receiver on the slate, the salary is extremely appealing compared to Beckham’s known slate-breaking ceiling, however. Awesemo projections for this week like Beckham, particularly at his mid-tier salary.

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Part of Beckham’s rosy projection has to do with Jarvis Landry’s lack of production thus far. He ranks 54th in true target share, significantly lower than fantasy gamers are accustomed to seeing. He’s 67th in raw opportunities at the position, but he has actually recorded one more reception than Beckham, somehow leading the team with a paltry 12 receptions through three weeks. As the 31st-highest-priced wide receiver, only $700 less than Beckham, he’ll certainly be low owned in a plus-matchup against a weaker Dallas secondary, which makes him intriguing to an extent. But the upside is limited for Landry who typically has relied on volume to return value in fantasy football. And that can no longer be guaranteed.

Austin Hooper isn’t in the top 30 tight ends in true weighted opportunity share, much to the chagrin of fantasy gamers. After a breakout campaign with Atlanta in 2019 and a big contract this offseason with Cleveland, he’s clearly been valued first and foremost as a blocker on the Browns. His receiving prowess continues to be just an added bonus. Kareem Hunt has more receptions thus far. Awesemo’s projections are somewhat bullish on Hooper this week compared to price, but as the 12th-highest-priced tight end, he’ll be tough to put into fantasy lineups.

Cleveland Running Game

The bread and butter of the Cleveland offense, as expected, is the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Hunt. Both rank in the top 20 in the NFL in total opportunities (Hunt has 50 compared to Chubb’s 54), but it’s Hunt who leads in targets and receptions. His eight receptions are third most on the squad, and he ranks 10th among backs in true weighted opportunity share, light years ahead of Chubb (78th). You’ll have to pay up in salary this week to get Hunt, however, as he’s the 12th-most expensive back on the slate. Still, he presents a better value than Chubb, who’s priced in the top six of running backs this week despite losing a significant amount of the team’s quality opportunity to his backfield mate. Standing in both of their ways this week will be a much-improved Cowboys run defense. They rank 10th in rush defensive grades via PFF and fifth in team tackling grade. Simply, the Cowboys are much more beatable through the air.

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Dallas Passing Game

The Cowboys are much more talented than their 1-2 record suggests, but they’ve yet to put everything together in the early goings of the 2020 season. Dak Prescott hasn’t been incredible on a per-play basis (he ranks 19th in expected points added per play) but has been tremendous thus far at converting drives into touchdowns. His true drive success rate ranks sixth, putting him in the top 12 of quarterback composite efficiency. This is particularly good news for fantasy gamers, as Prescott has been consistently playing uptempo and pushing the ball downfield. The Cowboys are one of 10 teams that are above league average in early-down air yards per second and true early-down pass rate. Volume plus efficiency tends to equal production (in any sport), and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with Dallas in 2020.

Dak Prescott’s target distribution in Weeks 1-3: Amari Cooper 35, Ezekiel Elliott 22, CeeDee Lamb 22, Dalton Schultz 20, Michael Gallup 19, Cedrick Wilson seven, Noah Brown five, Tony Pollard five, Blake Bell four. Cooper at the top surprises exactly no one, but players two through five should surprise fantasy gamers to an extent. Lamb (who got dinged up on a punt return but later returned in Week 3) being tied for second in usage is extremely encouraging for his long-term outlook, but it’s come at the expense of Gallup, that is, until Week 3.

Gallup had his breakout game of the 2020 season last week with six receptions on nine targets for 138 yards and a touchdown, which was only overshadowed by Wilson’s two-touchdown day against the Seahawks. Gallup re-solidified himself as a startable option in all fantasy formats and will be a solid option this week as the 16th-highest-priced receiver on the slate. It should be mentioned, even with Lamb expected back in the lineup and playing his typical snaps in week 3, don’t be surprised if we see more snaps for Wilson (which could come at the expense of Lamb, Gallup and tight end Schultz) going forward.

Schultz has quickly turned into a rock-solid option at the tight end position and needs to be considered this week in what should be a decent matchup against a Browns team that has lower PFF unit grades in pass coverage compared to their rush defense, which ranks in the top 10. Schultz is up to 16th among tight ends in true target share and is absolutely in play this week, even as the 10th-highest salary tight end on the board.

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Dallas Rushing Game

Elliott may have a tough time rushing the ball, as he did in Week 3 against Seattle, but that doesn’t change his touchdown upside, or his fantastic floor due to consistent usage in the passing game. He ranks second among running backs in high-value touches (goal line rushes and targets) and fourth among all players. He remains in the top seven in the NFL in share of team opportunities and is performing consistently with historical trends in evaded tackles per touch as well. He’s the same player he’s always been, in spite of slightly reduced productivity. Awesemo’s projection likes Elliott this week, even when considering his third-highest-priced running back salary on the main slate.

Prediction: Cowboys 28, Browns 20.

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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