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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Week 5 Indianapolis Colts vs. Cleveland Browns

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The Colts and Browns both come into their Week 5 clash having won three games in a row. With a revamped defense, the Colts will look to slow down a Browns team that put up over 300 yards rushing a week ago. Which team comes out victorious in this ground-and-pound battle? 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 Colts – Browns NFL DFS picks for your NFL DFS lineups.

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Indianapolis Colts (24.5) at Cleveland Browns (23)– 1:00 p.m. ET

Indianapolis Passing Game

The Colts never trailed against the Bears in Week 4 despite an off day from Philip Rivers in the passing department. Rivers had an abysmal 55% completion rate on 29 attempts, resulting in a mere 190 yards passing, but it was enough to stay well ahead of the Bears for the entirety of the game, in large part due to a stifling Indianapolis defense. It marks the second straight game of interception-free football for Rivers, particularly encouraging after he threw three picks in the first two games. Also encouraging was Rivers’ moderately increased average depth of target, as last Sunday marked his second game this season at 8.0 or more air yards per attempt. His year-long ADOT ranks just 22nd, and his composite quarterback efficiency ranks 25th, so there’s still room to grow here, but his playing has not been losing the Colts games. ESPN ranked him ninth on the week in total QBR, indicating he’s being efficient well beyond positional average on a per-play level. His upside is limited as Colt however you slice it. Rivers has finished between the 14th and 28th best weekly quarterback in each of his last seven starts dating back to 2019. At this point in his career, we know what we’re going to get against a Cleveland defense that continues to give up points in bunches (despite their three-game win streak, the Browns are still bottom 10 in points allowed per play) and gave up the most yards per play in the league a week ago to Dallas.

The Colts’ leader in target share and receiving yards among wideouts the last two weeks has been Zach Pascal, a stunning development considering the preseason perception that a majority of the volume would funnel towards T.Y. Hilton. Hilton has played on just 64% of snaps the past two contests (compared to Pascal’s 79%) and has posted receiving yardage totals of 53, 28, 52 and 29. It appears Hilton’s game has transformed into all floor and no ceiling, especially with the lack of touchdowns this offense is producing overall. Against the Cleveland secondary, still dealing with injuries to Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, Hilton should theoretically have opportunities to produce, but it feels far from certain based on his first four games playing with Rivers. Hilton’s Awesemo projection outpaces his salary this weekend.

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In his first action of the year in Week 4, tight end Trey Burton tied for second on the team in targets with five. Along with Mo Alie-Cox (who scored another touchdown in Week 4) and Jack Doyle, Indianapolis tight ends are averaging 11.3 targets per game this season. Cleveland gives up 9.2 fantasy points over opponent average to tight ends, making all three, particularly the lesser-owned options in Burton and Doyle, exciting contrarian tournament plays this weekend.

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Indianapolis Rushing Game

The Colts backfield touch distribution in Weeks  2-4: Jonathan Taylor 60, Jordan Wilkins 29, Nyheim Hines eight. In that same three-week span, only Hines has received an excess of two targets in any game, and he’s done so twice. The lack of receiving work is troublesome for Taylor, whom most believed would operate as a workhorse back once Marlon Mack went down. But that’s hardly been the case, as Taylor has only played on 51% of snaps since Week 2. And that number dipped below 45% for the second straight week. The usage may not be there for Taylor yet, but the salary is right. Now slotted-in as the 14th-highest-salary running back on the slate, Taylor has a ton of upside relative to salary, making him a likely lock for many fantasy gamers. Both Hines and Wilkins are interesting contrarian plays who will likely remain involved regardless. If the game is within a touchdown, however, expect Taylor to see a majority of the work.

Los Angeles Passing Game

The Browns put up 49 points in Week 4, but make no mistake, this run-oriented team operates most effectively in close games or with the lead, as they did last Sunday. Week 4’s matchup against Dallas is a textbook example of how run-first, low-volume teams like the Browns can still get into shootouts and win them. It’s encouraging that the Browns, when pushed by the opposing offense to continue scoring, were able to do so, but the explosive plays didn’t come through the passing game (well, at least not from Baker Mayfield’s arm), which on the surface seems a bit discouraging if it weren’t for the high quality of their quarterback’s advanced metrics (see below). Their opponent this week, the Colts, certainly doesn’t try to win games in the ways the Cowboys do, much preferring to control the game with rushing and their shutdown defense. Even with its relatively low game total of 47, based on how these two teams prefer to play, there’s a significant possibility the final outcome will not reach that total.

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One of the unsung developments of the 2020 season has been the quietly efficient play of Mayfield, who has turned things around entirely after a disastrous Week 1. He now ranks fifth in expected points added per play and seventh in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), including his rough season opener. Since Week 1, when Cleveland was forced into hurry-up mode early on, Mayfield has thrown 23, 25 and 31 times over the next three games, the 27.3 pass attempt average being 30th among quarterbacks over that span. The lack of volume certainly affects the receiver corps, as players like Odell Beckham typically command much more than 6.5 targets per game (Beckham’s average since Week 2), but on the low-volume Browns, that represents the fourth largest target share among all wide receivers. Beckham continues to get looks deep, ranking in the top 15 among all players in air yards per game (again since Week 2), encouraging for his big=play production. But this week he’ll see a ton of the Colts’ Xavier Rhodes, who is having a resurgent year on an overachieving Colts defense that ranks first in PFF’s team coverage grade. Rhodes has the second-highest defensive grade among all cornerbacks thus far. It certainly doesn’t change Beckham’s ceiling, but it lowers his probability of reaching it this week. He’s not a priority target in lineups this week, as he was a week ago, based on his 11th-highest salary among wideouts and his Awesemo projection.

Due to the low-volume nature of Cleveland’s passing attack, all other weapons are merely auxiliary, with none (not even Jarvis Landry) averaging even five targets per game. Landry and tight end Austin Hooper have combined for eight, seven, eight and 13 targets this season. In a difficult matchup that projects to be low scoring, there are likely better options at their salaries of $5,000 and $4,100, respectively. The Browns continue to deploy a large number of two-tight-end sets, with Harrison Bryant averaging a 66% snap share (but only a 12% target share), but the Browns have had a tight end score a touchdown in three of the first four weeks. David Njoku (IR) is practicing, and his activation would limit Bryant’s playing time. Assuming Njoku isn’t quite ready to return, both Hooper and Bryant aren’t terrible bets at their TE15 and TE45 salaries, respectively.

Cleveland Rushing Game

It’s downright insane that the Browns ran for 307 total yards as a team in Sunday’s win, though it didn’t come without its losses. Superstar rusher Nick Chubb, who was top 10 in evaded tackles and No. 1 in breakaway runs, was placed on IR with an MCL injury. It won’t require surgery, and he is expected to return this season, but it certainly puts a damper on an otherwise spectacular rushing day from Kareem Hunt. Hunt has been equally impressive this season and now profiles as one of the top backs in fantasy football. Beckham also took one of his two rushing attempts to the house in Week 4. Indianapolis has been stout against running backs this season, however. Offensive opponents have been scoring 7 points under their seasonal average when facing the Colts. With massive ownership (he’s projected to be the sixth-highest-owned back on the slate) and a tough matchup, Hunt isn’t necessarily the priority play from a median projection standpoint that some might make him out to be this week. With the requisite talent and increased workload on the ground, however, Hunt’s ceiling is as high as any player on the slate.

Prediction: Colts 24, 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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