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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Week 5 Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

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The Ravens got back to their winning ways with a trouncing of Washington last Sunday and now face a Bengals team riding high off of their first win of the season. Can Joe Burrow keep pace with Lamar Jackson in their first ever face-off? 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 5 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 the Bengals – Ravens NFL DFS picks for your NFL DFS lineups.

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Cincinnati Bengals (18.75) at Baltimore Ravens (33.25)– 1:00 p.m. ET

Cincinnati Passing Game

It may have been the Joe Mixon show in Week 4 against Jacksonville, but the more important takeaway should be the consistent, effective play of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. Against what admittedly appears to be a struggling Jacksonville defense (they’re bottom five in both expected points allowed and expected points subtracted) and factoring out garbage time (plays where win probability was greater than 95%), Burrow was a top-10 quarterback in expected points added per play and completion percentage over expected, and top five in EPA success rate. Especially considering the Bengals are the league’s most aggressive offense in terms of air yards per second (air yards per play divided by passes per play), it should go without saying, but elite efficiency mixing with tremendous volume should result in consistent offensive production. Not every secondary will be as easy to pick apart the Jaguars (who also lost cornerback C.J. Henderson in Week 4), but Burrow appears poised to enter the upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks, which should be thrilling for fantasy gamers.

Tyler Boyd had a spectacular touchdown grab called back due to a holding call in the first half of Week 4 but still managed 90 yards on 13 targets. He’s being targeted towards the line of scrimmage more than Tee Higgins or A.J. Green but still has a healthy average depth of target of 12.0, significantly outpacing his 9.3 average from 2019. He’s now in the top 10 of all wide receivers in total targets through four weeks. Boyd will likely be prioritized by the Baltimore secondary, but that certainly doesn’t mean a shutdown day for Boyd (like it may have meant for opposing receivers a year ago). The Ravens are in the bottom third of defenses in team coverage grade, and Washington star Terry McLaurin hauled in 10 receptions (on 14 targets) for 118 yards day against Baltimore last week.

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The largest beneficiary of Burrow’s new groove has been rookie Higgins, who’s now been second on the team in targets two straight weeks, surpassing Green, who continues to turn his dwindling opportunity into no production whatsoever. Higgins has now recorded three straight games of six or more targets, and ranks top-40 in the entire NFL in true air yards share. His true weighted opportunity ranks ahead of target share leader Boyd, and his 77 yards receiving in Week 4 nearly doubled his previous career high. Higgins may be the more enticing option this weekend, considering the Ravens should attempt to bottle up Boyd with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who currently ranks in the top 20 among cornerbacks in coverage grade, even after McLaurin’s big game last Sunday.

The team leader in weighted opportunity share, almost shockingly, remains Green (28th among wideouts). Green, who does not appear 100% healthy, at least to this article’s author, is a dreadful 97th in receiver air conversion rate and 127th overall. He’s averaging 22 yards receiving and should be considered a distant third option after Boyd and Higgins. Drew Sample (5.0 targets per game since Week 2), Mixon (4.3) and Giovani Bernard (3.3) round out the passing game. Sample seems to be a near one-to-one replacement for the injured C.J. Uzomah, as he’s now within one target per game of Uzomah’s Week 1 and 2 average. Bernard seems like he might be an intriguing tournament play this week in a game that Cincinnati will most likely find themselves playing from behind, but it’s getting extremely difficult to trust Bernard, as he continues to lose his valuable passing down work to Mixon.

Cincinnati Rushing Game

In this season’s four-game sample, Bernard remains the only Bengals running back in the top 50 of rushing expected points added per game (he ranks 47th), but Mixon seemed to re-enter running back elite with a monster game in Week 4 against the Jaguars. Last Sunday, Mixon ranked fourth in the NFL rush expected points added (EPA) and fifth in receiving EPA, and his 181 total yards led the position a week ago. Week 5 doesn’t project quite as rosy for Mixon at first glance, as the Ravens rank seventh in PFF’s team rush grade. But Washington running back Antonio Gibson was quite effective against Baltimore a week ago, racking up 128 total yards of his own on just 17 touches. Mixon has averaged nearly six touches per game more than that.

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Baltimore Passing Game

Baltimore continues to be built around their running game. They prefer to win games by controlling the ball on the ground while picking their shots through the air, as the Ravens currently rank 31st in team dropbacks per game. With a weapon like Lamar Jackson as signal-caller, who had his first game-breaking statline as a rusher this season last Sunday, Baltimore is uniquely equipped to make such a decision. It’s a proven plan that continues to be effective a season-and-a-half into Jackson’s career as a starter. As a passer, however, Jackson’s metrics are down significantly from their 2019 totals. Jackson currently ranks outside the top 15 quarterbacks in expected points added per play and EPA success rate, two metrics he dominated a year ago, and the result has been the 31st-most passing yards per game in the league. This was never going to be a high-flying passing offense, and Jackson still appears to be quite accurate when he does choose to throw (he ranks seventh in the NFL in completion percentage over expected). The lack of volume and run-first preference make the receiving weaponry extremely reliant on efficient games and touchdowns to hit pay dirt in fantasy football.

The division-rival Bengals have taken massive steps to improve their putrid secondary from a year ago, which ranked in the bottom seven of all defenses in PFF’s coverage grade. In 2020, they’re up to an impressive third in the NFL in the same metric, although that metric is slightly inflated by massively successful days against Tyrod Taylor in Week 1 and an anemic Carson Wentz in Week 3, and ho-hum grades against Baker Mayfield in Week 2 and Gardner Minshew last Sunday. They rank just 16th as a defensive unit overall, and Baltimore represents the most potent offense Cincinnati has faced thus far.

It hasn’t been an overly effective season thus far for receiver Marquise Brown. Without any “boom” weeks in 2020, it would appear, at first glance, that Brown may have regressed from his breakout 2019 campaign, but he remains as the most aggressively targeted by Jackson. Brown’s true target share ranks 11th among receivers, and his true weighted opportunity share (which incorporates air yard share into target share) ranks seventh among all players in the NFL. Yet the low-volume nature of the Baltimore passing game makes those metrics slightly deceptive – Brown ranks just 33rd overall in high-value opportunities and 23rd among receivers. Part of Brown’s troubles have been an inability to turn many of his deep opportunities into big plays. Brown currently ranks 85th among receivers (with at least 12% of their team’s weighted opportunity) in receiver air conversion rate. Better days are coming for Brown, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Brown’s best game of 2020 happens against a Bengals squad that just allowed two touchdowns to Jacksonville’s D.J. Chark.

The Ravens clearly lean on Mark Andrews as they get closer to the goal line. He leads the team with 29% of Baltimore’s red zone target share (compared to Brown’s 0%), seventh among all tight ends and up 5% from a season ago. Even priced up, Andrews has massive touchdown upside in this game and has plenty of volume to lean on otherwise. He ranks seventh at the position in true target share and fifth in both true air yard share and true weighted opportunity share. He’s an elite option in a smash spot and should be considered a high-quality tight end option in all fantasy formats.

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Miles Boykin (87th among wideouts in true weighted opportunity share), Willie Snead (124th) and Nick Boyle (60th among tight ends) are all ultra low-volume plays, but in a plus matchup,  like this expects to be, they could be considered as contrarian plays with decent touchdown upside. Snead has seen a healthy 21% of Baltimore’s red zone targets, giving him the slight edge above the others in this group, but they all remain dart throws, particularly considering the Ravens’ run-first approach.

Baltimore Rushing Game

The Ravens are tied for seventh this season in rush attempts per game, but they are second (to Cleveland) in yards per attempt. However, only 36% of their touchdowns have come via the ground, 14th in the league. And most difficult for fantasy gamers, the backfield remains split fairly evenly between four players. Mark Ingram currently leads the team, averaging 32% of the team’s carries, but he ended up second on the team a week ago (at 27%) to Gus Edwards 31% of team carries. That will certainly be something to monitor, as it is Edwards who has been the most efficient rusher on the squad in terms of EPA success rate. Jackson still typically commands between 15% to 40% of the attempts, which makes second-year player J.K. Dobbins the odd man out in terms of opportunity. Dobbins has not had a game with more than 5 attempts since Week 1. Even on a team that averages 1.44 expected points added per rush attempt (a stratospheric total) like the Ravens did a week ago, Dobbins lacks the requisite volume to be trusted in anything but tournament play. He’ll need to vulture touchdowns to be effective on his limited work.

Prediction: Ravens 31, Bengals 21.

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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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