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.
After missing two weeks due to a hamstring ailment, Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills will be back in the mix, aiming to haul in targets from quarterback Deshaun Watson. Stills hasnt found the end zone since his debut contest with the Texans in Week 1, although he has recorded multiple receptions in each of the four games that he has suited up for this season. Hes in a tricky fantasy position this week with Indianapolis solid pass defense; owners are best keeping tabs on Stills, but can likely leave him out of their lineups unless theres a significant need in the Flex slot.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will look to rebound this week after he recorded his first two-interception outing since Week 11 of the 2018 year against Kansas City in Week 6. Despite the picks, Watson completed a season-high 30 passes en route to tossing for 280 yards. The Colts Defense that he squares off with this week has been right in the center of the pack as it pertains to yielding yards through the air on average, but is simultaneously coming off having stifled Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in addition to having had their bye week. Indianapolis kept Watson under wraps during the postseason last year, forcing 20 incompletions and holding him to 235 yards passing in their most recent meeting. Houstons signal caller remains a must-play in all traditional formats, but his high DFS price tag might be worth backing away from in Week 7.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard hasn't done much in 2019, with that trend expected to continue in Week 7. The veteran has rushed for just 49 yards off of 23 attempts while racking up a subpar 108 receiving yards on 14 receptions so far this season. Joe Mixon continues to retain a firm grasp as the No. 1 option out of the backfield, so Bernard likely won't produce in all aspects until that changes, even with the team down A.J. Green (ankle) and John Ross (shoulder). For those fantasy managers who have Bernard on their roster for some reason, keep him benched against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate will remain as the team's No. 2 option for Sunday's matchup against Jacksonville. With A.J. Green (ankle) still not ready to return, Tate will continue to receive a favorable amount of looks from quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 7. The 22-year-old was targeted 11 times against the Ravens in Week 6, and despite Dalton playing behind a horrendous offensive line, expect Boyd to produce something against a Jaguars Defense that no longer has Jalen Ramsey. The upside is there, especially in deeper formats.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert has had a disappointing 2019. With just 15 receptions for 108 yards and a score, many were expecting the veteran to regain some traction this season after injuries plagued the team on the offensive end. However, Eifert remains a bust despite remaining healthy this season after spending a massive amount of time on injured reserve throughout the years. The upside is there against the Jaguars, but fantasy owners shouldn't expect much on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd will remain the No. 1 option on Sunday against the Jaguars. With A.J. Green (ankle) still not ready to return, Boyd should continue to get his looks from quarterback Andy Dalton. The 24-year-old has played relatively well, considering that the team has arguably the worst offensive line in football, and without Jalen Ramsey in the mix for Jacksonville after he was traded, the door is open for some solid production from Boyd. The upside is there for those plagued with injuries or looking to get through a bye.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will look to get on track in Week 7 against the Jaguars. The 23-year-old has been a colossal disappointment this season, rushing for only 252 yards on 74 attempts in addition to 97 yards off of 14 catches, with his only touchdown of the season coming through the air during the Week 3 matchup against Buffalo. With a weak offensive line along with limited options on the receiving end, opposing defenses continue to keep Mixon in check. Don't expect anything different on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will have his hands full against Jacksonville. After throwing for 262 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals in Week 5, Dalton took a few steps back against Baltimore by logging a subpar 53.8 completion percentage to go along with an interception. With the Jaguars Defense getting to the quarterback often this season, expect Dalton to feel the pressure on Sunday behind arguably the worst offensive line in the league. Keep the veteran benched on Sunday.
The New York Jets Defense is getting star middle linebacker C.J. Mosley back for a tough Monday night matchup vs the Patriots. Mosley was a monster in the one game he played this season forcing two turnovers and scoring a touchdown in a Week 1 loss to Buffalo. The Jets defense hasn't looked the same without him so adding Mosley to a defense that already has safety Jamal Adams gives the Jets defense sleeper appeal in the second half against a soft schedule. Despite the good news, the Jets defense shouldn't be started this week against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has a rough matchup Monday against a Patriots Defense that allows the fewest fantasy points against to opposing wide receivers. Thomas got five targets last week, so he's been getting more involved in the offense, but is still not seeing the type of target share to warrant consideration in standard-size fantasy leagues. Thomas got five targets last week but is the clear third option behind Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder and won't carry much fantasy appeal as long as those other two are healthy.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder will face a tough test Monday when the Patriots No. 1 ranked pass defense comes to town. New England allows the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and shut down Crowder in Week 3 when they held him to only 25 yards on two catches. Third-string quarterback Luke Falk started that game, so Crowder should have more success with Sam Darnold back under center. In two games with Darnold, Crowder has 20 catches for 197 yards, so he has major fantasy upside moving forward, especially as the Jets' schedule gets softer. In Week 7, however, Crowder is only a borderline WR3 who has more appeal in PPR formats.
New York Jets Le'Veon Bell will face a tough matchup Monday night when the Patriots elite defense heads to MetLife Stadium. New England allows the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs so it's a tough matchup for Bell, but he should put up RB2 numbers based on volume. Bell has played 92.2 percent of the team's offensive snaps so far and has the second-most targets on the team. Bell should see his usual 20-25 touches and fantasy owners should start him with confidence he can put up a decent day even if he doesn't score a touchdown.
Free-agent RB Samaje Perine (Bengals) passed through waivers and was re-signed by the Cincinnati Bengals and assigned to their practice squad Friday, Oct. 18.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson will look to change his fortunes against the Patriots in a tough matchup Monday. In seven career games against New England, Anderson hasn't scored a touchdown and his 39.5 percent catch rate is by far his lowest mark against any team he's faced more than once. This season, the Patriots are as daunting a matchup as there is in the NFL allowing the fewest fantasy points against to wide receivers. There is always the chance Anderson grabs a long touchdown, like the 92-yard score he had last week, so he has some appeal as a flex in deeper leagues. However, where possible, owners should look to steer clear of Anderson in this matchup.
Washington Redskins WR Wendell Smallwood has the ability to handle RB Chris Thompson's (toe) duties on passing downs against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, according to offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell.
Fantasy Spin: With Thompson sidelined, Smallwood could be headed for the handful of catches and 50-plus total yards typically reserved for Thompson, but he's still just a DFS lottery ticket for fantasy purposes.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold will face a tough challenge Monday night against the Patriots, the team that has given up the fewest fantasy points this season to opposing quarterbacks. Darnold, who missed three games with mono, had a strong showing in his return to the field Sunday when he put up 338 yards and two touchdowns. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect that type of performance Monday against arguably the best defense in the NFL, especially with two starters on the offensive line unlikely to play. Darnold is best left on the bench this week, however, the Jets schedule gets very soft after the game vs New England so Darnold is a good bench stash for those matchups.
New Orleans Saints RB Dwayne Washington will be 'invited into the offensive mix' against the Chicago Bears in Week 7 with RB Alvin Kamara (ankle) ruled out, according to Larry Holder of The Athletic.
Fantasy Spin: While Washington will likely see some touches, Latavius Murray is the back to target if you are looking for a replacement for Kamara. However, a matchup with a tough Chicago defense limits Murray to flex consideration.
Oakland Raiders WR Trevor Davis is expected to see an expanded role in the passing attack against the Green Bay Packers in Week 7 because of the injury to WR Tyrell Williams (foot), according to Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fantasy Spin: Davis caught four passes for 42 yards against Chicago in Week 5 in his second game with Oakland after being acquired from Green Bay. He could be worth a flier in DFS contests when faces off against his former team.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (hamstring) and cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) were limited in practice this week and are questionable for Week 7 against the Bills. Even if Grant plays this weekend, he's nowhere close to being fantasy relevant behind Devante Parker, Preston Williams and Albert Wilson on the depth chart. Grant has only nine catches (19 targets) for 52 scoreless yards in four games this year. Howard is the team's best cornerback, but the Dolphins Defense/special teams is also well off the fantasy radar. If Howard sits, it'll be good news for Bills wideout John Brown.