You can watch “Thursday Night Football,” Jets vs. Browns, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video at 8:15 p.m. ET.
What diverging paths these two franchises have experienced since the start of the season a few months ago …
The Jets arrived in September hoping to go for a Super Bowl run under the guidance of Aaron Rodgers only for the quarterback to last literally four snaps. The Browns suffered a similar fate (only a bit delayed) when Deshaun Watson went down for a few weeks, then ruled out for the season 10 games into the year. And what happened next (from Week 2 for the Jets and Week 11 for the Browns) couldn’t have been more different for the two franchises’ outlooks.
The New York Jets (6-9) are out of the postseason, never found a proper quarterback to at least give Rodgers a shot at a late comeback (which was always unlikely anyway) and don’t seem to have a clue where the ship is going.
The Cleveland Browns (10-5) are the best non-division-leading team in the league, a lock (99% odds per the New York Times) for the playoffs and found their best quarterback in free-agent veteran Joe Flacco.
This TNF game isn’t the most exciting one coming off a magnificent slate scheduled on Christmas Day, but it looks interesting on paper as it pits the worst offense in the league (Jets) against the best defense in the NFL (Browns). Will Cleveland win the game exclusively by scoring defensive-takeaway points? Could happen!
The Browns opened the week as seven-point favorites which was a little bit disrespectful considering where these two teams find themselves. The Jets might not be the worst team in the NFL, but they’re not only one touchdown worse than the Browns, either.
The over/under was set at 36.5 points. Betting on the over would mean Cleveland would need to score probably that whole amount of points because there is a chance the Jets get shut out for the second time in three weeks.
How do the Jets and the Browns arrive at their TNF matchup?
The Browns are coming off their third consecutive victory after beating the Houston Texans 36-22 on Sunday (without starting QB C.J. Stroud, mind you) in Joe Flacco’s fourth start with Cleveland.
Flacco has lifted the Browns way above their expectations once Deshaun Watson went down. The veteran quarterback has strung four games passing for 250+ yards to go with at least two touchdown passes.
The Browns defense turned out not to be an early-season mirage, as Cleveland has maintained their level of play on that end of the field for the full season, currently ranking first in total yards (260.3) and passing yards (160.1) per game allowed to their opponents through Week 16.
The Jets fell off the postseason picture a couple of weeks ago when they were shut out by Miami and lost 30-0 then and there, bringing Aaron Rodgers’ season to a legitimate end.
New York rebounded from that loss with a 30-28 win against the Washington Commanders on Christmas Eve but that was only because they scored a last-minute field goal after blowing a 20-point lead in the third quarter. The Commanders, for context, had not scored 28 points or more since Oct. 29, and they have only reached that figure three times this season before Week 16.
The Jets have been good at times (and that was the case last Sunday), mainly because of their defense. They have the second-best unit in passing yards allowed per game (168.6) and have surrendered the third-fewest passing touchdowns (16) in the NFL while picking 14 passes (seventh-most).
Just so you get a simple idea, the Jets rank in the bottom five in nearly all offensive categories including points, passing and rushing yards, touchdowns, sacks allowed, fumbles lost … and on and on it goes.
TNF Week 17: Injury Report
The Jets will start Trevor Siemian for the second consecutive game. The franchise ruled Wilson out on Tuesday as he didn’t clear the concussion protocol in time, and he might have already played his last game for Gang Green.
Jets TE Jeremy Ruckert left Sunday’s game with a concussion, and he’s not cleared the protocol in time for this TNF matchup at Cleveland, so he’s out too.
The Browns don’t boast any fantasy-relevant injury outside of kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring) who left Sunday’s game versus the Texans and didn’t return. Funnily enough, Cleveland didn’t have any other player capable of kicking the ball last weekend so they were forced to go for it on fourth downs. After scoring one touchdown after Hopkins’ injury, the franchise needed to sign a backup off the street for TNF.
Jets K Greg Zuerlein (who kicked a game-winning field goal for New York last Sunday) was limited on Monday and DNP in Tuesday’s session and is going to be a game-time decision for New York on TNF. If he cannot go, the Jets might use a backup off the street too, similar to the Browns.
Browns WR Amari Cooper was listed as “questionable” to play on TNF with a heel issue, but he missed Wednesday’s practice because of rest, not an actual injury, so it’s fair to assume he’ll play.
One stat that can swing the balance
The Jets have the worst offense in the NFL. The Browns have the best defense in the NFL. Expect weird things on Thursday
I don’t have the data to back that last statement up, but I’m sure there haven’t been that many matchups between the best and the worst units at opposite sides of the field throughout NFL history this late in the season. It’s fair to assume it’s happened before, of course, but it’s still a unique thing and something I’m very intrigued to watch unfold on the gridiron.
For fantasy purposes, however, this can end up in any potential outcome you can imagine.
Jets running back Breece Hall, for starters, is coming off a monster game on Christmas Eve. On the other hand, quarterback Lamar Jackson (741) has more yards than Hall (732) this season, which tells you about New York’s running game.
Outside of wide receiver Garrett Wilson (958), no other skill position player of the Jets has more than 560 receiving yards through Week 16.
The four quarterbacks to start a game for the Jets this season have combined for 2,958 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2023. For context, 18 individual quarterbacks have racked up more passing yards, 26 passers have at least 10 touchdown passes and only two have tossed more than 14 interceptions (although both have more TDs than picks).
Simply put, this Jets team is horrible and probably not the best contingent of fantasy players you could use any given week.
The Browns defense has been better in real life than fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad proposition to kill the upside of all opponents they face every week without failing to put the clamps on them.
Cleveland has the third-best fantasy defense against opposing QBs (14 FPPG allowed to the position in 2023), the 11th-best against running back units (16.7), the third-best against wide receiver units (22.0) and the third-best against opposing tight end units.
With the Dolphins shutting out the Jets less than two weeks ago, you’d be wise to bet on a similar outcome on TNF against the absolute best defense in the NFL. No need to mention that will most probably have devastating implications on the fantasy upside of all Jets … and perhaps even on some of the Browns’ playmakers if they are afforded to sit a few plays or even full drives while resting for their (more than probable) postseason appearance.
Players to start/stream or bench on TNF
Start in 12-team leagues and DFS: QB Joe Flacco (CLE)
It’s never too late. That must be Flacco’s motto and yours if you are still fighting for your fantasy league’s championship but in need of help at the quarterback position. Veteran Joe Flacco is all you need to get that final win, folks!
Flacco arrived in Cleveland off his couch in late November and although he lost his Browns’ debut he’s currently riding a three-game winning streak. Flacco has thrown two-plus touchdowns every time he’s played, and although he’s already thrown seven interceptions, he’s made up for that with his yardage and TD-bound passes (10 through Christmas).
The Browns are a near-lock for the playoffs and Flacco is coming off his best game of the season at Houston last Sunday. He completed 27 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns (against two interceptions), logging his best completion percentage (64.3%) and posting the best QBR (87.3) among passers in Week 16 through Sunday’s matchups.
Flacco would have been my choice for the weekly “player to scout and add from waivers” considering his 33% rostership across all Yahoo leagues, but this late in the season there is no time for waiting.
Add and start him if you want to win your league this week.
Bench/Don’t stream: TE Tyler Conklin (NYJ)
Conklin is a very solid tight end. He is what he is, though, and that is not going to change even though the New York Jets will only have him (and fourth-string TE Kenny Yeboah) available for TNF following Jeremy Ruckert’s concussion last weekend.
With Ruckert out and Yeboah having played just nine snaps before last Sunday, everything points toward an extraordinary opportunity being in front of Conklin at the time when stakes (fantasy stakes, at least) are at their highest.
Or does it?
There is no doubt Conklin will be the one-and-only tight end the Jets will look to feed on TNF. That being said, it’s not that Conklin can get many more targets than he’s already getting. He’s logged 79 targets through Week 16, averages more than five looks per game and he’s been targeted nine, six and seven (twice) times in December’s matchups.
Not even with that large diet of targets has Conklin found a way to become a relevant fantasy player. He’s caught three-plus passes in five consecutive games and he has four receptions in three straight matchups. He’s only topped 36 receiving yards once in the last month and a half, however, and has yet to score his first touchdown of the season.
The Browns have struggled a little bit of late against opposing tight ends, but they have the No. 1 overall defense in the nation, and Conklin has offered us more than a big enough sample to not trust him in any particular matchup.
Start everywhere: TE David Njoku (CLE)
Of course, the “start everywhere” advice goes for WR Amari Cooper (I’m assuming he’s playing even though he was listed as “questionable,” albeit resting — not missing — Wednesday’s practice) before it does for Njoku, but no one is even thinking about sitting Cooper in any fantasy format, right? The next-best option after Cooper, however, is Browns tight end David Njoku. And if Cooper is limited in any capacity, then even moreso!
While the arrival of Joe Flacco is not the sole reason for Njoku’s late-season explosion (he had good games earlier this year), the truth is that the two have connected delightfully and the veteran quarterback seems to have found a way to unlock Njoku’s full potential.
Njoku has been great for most of the second half of the 2023 season compared to the first eight games (he scored 57.9 total fantasy points in the first eight matchups but he has already reached 88.4 in the last seven). And the best of all is that he has not been entirely touchdown-dependent, to put up solid numbers weekly.
The tight end has finished as a top-12 player at the position in nine of the last ten weeks and he’s finished as a top-five TE in three straight slates, all with Flacco tossing him the ball. In those last three matchups, Njoku has grabbed six, 10 and six passes for 91, 104 and 44 yards including scoring two, one and one touchdown respectively.
The Jets gave up 50 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions to the Commanders tight-end unit last Sunday and New York has surrendered at least three receptions and 32 yards to opposing tight ends in four consecutive games.
Consider fading in DFS: Breece Hall (NYJ)
If you’re fighting for the championship in a season-long and/or re-draft league, no matter the format, you’re going to start Breece Hall. He’s a star running back, and almost a set-it-and-forget-it player at the position these days.
This advice goes more for those playing single-game DFS on Thursday, as I’d recommend starting other top-dollar players and filling other roster spots with big-salary performers (mainly WR Amari Cooper and TE David Njoku) instead of the Jets running back.
Hall is coming off a breakout game last Sunday and a legitimate top-15 fantasy performance through Week 16 considering all players at all positions. Yes, he was that good, and he reached those heights by rushing the rock 20 times for 96 yards and a couple of touchdowns … to which he added 12 receptions (on 16 targets) for 96 more yards through the air.
This is not saying he cannot do it again, or that he hasn’t done similar things in the past. Hall had reached 14+ fantasy points six times before Week 16, but he won’t have it easy on TNF against the best defense in the NFL. Also, check what happened two weeks ago when the Jets visited Miami.
Hall only played 23 snaps in that shutout, logged six carries (turned into 12 yards) and grabbed one of two targets for six yards. Before last Sunday, in fact, Hall had only carried the ball more than 13 times in a single game twice all season and not since Week 9.
There is a chance the Browns put the clamps on the Jets as the Dolphins did, limiting New York’s backfield to bare minimum volume and production.
It might make sense (again, mostly in super-deep leagues and in DFS contests) to go with a cheaper option rather than paying/risking a lot on Hall and watching him put up a dud.