In this Feb. 3, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots' Tom Brady (12) passes under pressure from Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald (99) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game in Atlanta. The Rams, the defending NFC champions, with an offense teeming with talent and defense led by incomparable star tackle Donald, will visit Cleveland in the Browns first nationally televised Sunday night game in 11 years. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
CLEVELAND (AP) The Browns passed their first prime-time test. The second one won't be nearly as easy.
Here come Aaron Donald and those big, bad Los Angeles Rams.
The defending NFC champions, with an offense teeming with talent and defense led by incomparable star tackle Donald, will visit Cleveland in the Browns' first nationally televised Sunday night game in 11 years.
On Monday night, the Browns (1-1) bounced back from a dreadful 30-point loss in their season opener to Tennessee by bullying the New York Jets, who were already missing quarterback Sam Darnold when his replacement, Trevor Simiean, went down with a season-ending injury.
The uber-hyped Browns, who have gone from winless two years ago to somewhat overexposed in 2019, get a chance to see how they stack up to a legitimate Super Bowl contender, one fixated on winning an NFL title this season.
''It'll be a challenge and we'll be able to really measure where we're at as a team,'' said Browns guard Joel Bitonio. ''Now it's a true team, a true playoff team, a team that was in the Super Bowl, a team that we can see, `Hey, how are the Cleveland Browns this year?'''
It's hard to gauge them to this point. The Browns were undisciplined in Week 1, committing 18 penalties and allowing the Titans to score 28 unanswered points in the second half. Cleveland cleaned things up considerably against the Jets, but quarterback Baker Mayfield had his second straight shaky performance and the Browns suffered a couple major injuries that may force first-year coach Freddie Kitchens to play rookies in key spots.
That could help the Rams (2-0), not that they really need any.
Quarterback Jared Goff and the Los Angeles offense have had some issues, but Donald and the rest of the defense are playing at a high level already. They shut down New Orleans last week, helped by Donald inadvertently sidelining Saints quarterback Drew Brees with a thumb injury.
Browns star Odell Beckham Jr. said Donald will have everyone's attention.
''There's no way to even go around him,'' said Beckham. ''He's probably the best player in the league. If not the best player in the league, one of the most disruptive players I've ever seen. So, yeah, No. 99 has to be accounted for. The game plan starts right there. They have a lot of other stars, a lot of very, very talented, great players, but it starts with 99.
''So we have to get that handled, and we're going to be tested in every position.''
The two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year, Donald has no sacks and just two tackles through two games. The numbers are deceiving as teams are scheming to stay clear of Donald. The Browns will probably do the same.
''Everybody is sliding to him,'' defensive end Michael Brockers said. ''He's going to get a lot of attention, and that's what's happening now. It's leaving a lot of opportunities for other guys to make plays. As the season goes on, they're going to have to pick their poison on which guys to block, and that's when it's going to get really fun.''
It didn't get fun for Donald until Week 4 last year. He have record a sack in his first three games and still finished with 20 1/2.
Mayfield has been guilty of holding onto the ball too long, and not taking advantage of receivers being open while trying to complete long passes.
He's still getting into a rhythm with Beckham, who sat out the preseason but showed why he's elite on Monday by scoring on an 89-yard play.
''It's a learning curve,'' said Mayfield, who while not as accurate as usual has still completed 60 percent of his throws. ''Needing to know when I can take my shots and check the ball down to get completions. It's a little difficult at times but, like I keep harping on, I just need to get completions.''
The Browns could exploit inexperience up front for the Rams, who are likely to have three untested starters on their offensive line.
Right guard Austin Blythe is unlikely to play due to a left ankle sprain. If he becomes the first starting offensive lineman to miss a game due to injury in McVay's tenure, sixth-round pick Jamil Demby is expected to make his first start alongside fellow 2018 draft choices Brian Allen at center and Joe Noteboom at left guard.
Allen and Noteboom will be making their third career starts. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Rob Havenstein haven't been spectacular so far this season, either.
Rams running back Todd Gurley has fond memories of the team's last meeting with the Browns: Gurley scored his first two NFL touchdowns against Cleveland during a 128-yard performance as a rookie in St. Louis in 2015.
Gurley is a quiet ninth in the league this season with 160 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Backup Malcolm Brown has 17 carries as the Rams attempt to lessen the load on Gurley, who leads the NFL in yards rushing since the start of the 2017 season. Gurley has insisted his knee is fine and he's ready for any workload.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson finished with a game-high eight receptions (14 targets) for 137 yards in the loss to the Jaguars on Sunday. Though Tyler Boyd received an equal amount of looks from quarterback Andy Dalton, his five catches for 55 yards opened the door for increased production from Erickson on a day where nothing was going right. With A.J. Green (ankle) expected back within the next week or so, the sell-high window is wide open for the 26-year-old as this type of performance won't happen too often moving forward, if at all.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense continued its dominant run, shutting out the Washington Redskins in Week 7. Aided by a wet field, the Niners limited the Skins to 154 meaningless yards, collecting three sacks and recovering a fumble in the process. A driving force behind the teams undefeated start, San Franciscos defensive unit continues to take care of business and serve notice to the football community. Theyve evolved into a weekly must-start fantasy squad. The Carolina Panthers await in Week 8.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard finished with no yards on four attempts in addition to four yards off of two receptions against the Jaguars in Week 7. As the team's offensive woes continue, the veteran is having one of his worst seasons as a professional. As the Bengals continue to be plagued with a horrendous offensive line and a plethora of injuries, Bernard hasn't done much this season. He has little, if any, fantasy value at the moment, with that likely staying the same moving forward unless Joe Mixon loses his spot on the depth chart.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 12 of 21 passes for 151 yards, no scores and an interception in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. The Niners leaned on their defense and wet conditions to overmatch the Redskins in the 9-0 shutout. The nondescript performance from Garoppolo has become the norm, as hes managed the team to a sparkling 6-0 start to 2019. With the continued emphasis on the run game and Jimmy G yet to push the gas, hell remain a middling QB2 in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon rushed for just two yards on 10 attempts against the Jaguars on Sunday. While he was able to bring in a two-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Andy Dalton, it was a disappointing outing overall for those who were hoping for a turnaround in Week 7. With the Bengals unable to get anything going behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, Mixon's outlook moving forward doesn't look promising, especially in Week 8 against the Rams Defense.
Neither San Francisco 49ers wide receivers Dante Pettis nor Marquise Goodwin caught a pass in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. The two receivers garnered three total targets in a sloppy contest dominated by the Niners defense. After a week of fantasy buzz, Pettis will fall back with Goodwin in fantasy obsolescence as zero-floor WR5s in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle recorded 38 yards on three catches in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. The Niners managed just 151 pass yards in a wet and sloppy contest, resulting in Kittles lowest production of 2019. His five targets still led the squad. The Niners return home in Week 8 to host the Carolina Panthers where Kittle will be a premium TE1 against a tough pass defense.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught 5-of-6 targets for 58 yards and a touchdown in Week 7. Rudolph connected with Kirk Cousins on a 15-yard score in the fourth quarter, Rudolph's first touchdown catch of the year. Adam Thielen (hamstring) left the game early, meaning guys like Rudolph, Olabisi Johnson, and Irv Smith Jr. were asked to step up in the passing attack. To their credit, they all put up solid performances. That being said, Rudolph remains an uninspiring low-volume option at tight end and should only be played as a touchdown-dependent TE2 in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't able to get anything going against Jacksonville in Week 7. While the veteran was able to accumulate 276 yards and two total touchdowns on the day, the Jaguars Defense was relentless by recording interceptions on three-straight drives, with one of those picks being returned for a score. Dalton is having one of his worst seasons in the league, though he can't take all of the blame as the team has been plagued with injuries across the board. Things likely won't get any easier in Week 8 as the Bengals will look for their first win of the year against the newly revamped Rams Defense.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett caught four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7. Everett was targeted a team-high 10 times in the game. He'll have a tough matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week. The Bengals have only allowed tight ends to grab 13 balls for 183 yards and no touchdowns in the last three weeks. Everett will be a low-end TE1 option.
The Los Angeles Rams Defense had a big day against the Atlanta Falcons with five sacks, two fumble recoveries, one that went for a touchdown, an interception and just 10 points allowed. They have upside next week against the Cincinnati Bengals and are a midrange start for Week 8.
Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler had seven tackles (six solo), three sacks and a pass defense against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7. His tackles and sacks were both team highs. Fowler is a fringe player to own in individual defensive player leagues, but this might put him over the hump and onto rosters.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught 7-of-8 targets for 142 scoreless yards in Week 7's win over the Detroit Lions. Adam Thielen (hamstring) leaving the game in the first quarter concentrated targets to Diggs, but the four receiving touchdowns went to Thielen, C.J. Ham, Kyle Rudolph, and Olabisi Johnson. Diggs got dragged down just before the goal-line on a 67-yard catch (set up by some beautiful play-action) late in the game. Diggs is back to seeing WR2-worthy targets and has exceeded 100 receiving yards in three of his last four games. Start him as a top-end WR2 in Week 8's Thursday night tilt against the Washington Redskins.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook tallied 25 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7's 42-30 win over the Detroit Lions. He also added one catch for seven yards. This was Cook's league-leading fifth 100-yard rushing game and he now has six touchdowns on the ground in what's becoming a breakout campaign for the third-year back out of Florida State. Cook has been absolutely dynamic all season and his ceiling is raised even higher with the form that Kirk Cousins and the play-action passing game is in. Cook is a surefire RB1 and will arguably be the top option at running back in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn led the team in receiving yards on Sunday against the 49ers. This is a meaningless development, of course, because all that it means is he totaled more than 18 yards. Quinn turned in a familiar stat line with two receptions for 30 yards, while no one else on the team broke 20. He remains an outsider in the fantasy picture, as nothing he or the Redskins have done recently suggests he's poised to break through any time soon.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff bounced back with 268 passing yards and two touchdowns in a blowout of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7. Goff was 22-for-37, didn't throw any picks and rushed for a touchdown as well. This comes after he threw for just 78 yards last week. He'll have a fabulous matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, and he's a midrange QB1 option.
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley rushed 18 times for 41 yards in Week 7, but he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to salvage the ineffective day on the ground. The good news is that was the most rushing attempts that he has had all season after missing last week with a quadriceps injury. Gurley will have a great matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, but his spotty production limits him to a high-end RB2.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks caught four balls for 59 yards in Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons. Cooks was targeted seven times, which tied for third on the team. He'll have a tougher matchup next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are among the better half of teams that have defended the receiver position the last three weeks. Cooks will be a high-end WR3 in Week 8.
Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson rushed 11 times for 31 yards in Week 7 and caught an eight-yard pass against the Atlanta Falcons. It was the most action he has seen in his rookie season, but he wasn't able to do much with it. Running back Malcolm Brown's (ankle) status next week will determine whether Henderson is working using as a flex against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp had six grabs for 50 yards in the Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The line was decent in point-per-reception leagues, but it was underwhelming considering the matchup. He was second on the team with eight targets. He'll face a tougher Cincinnati Bengals matchup next week, but he'll remain a low-end WR1.