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Thursday's fantasy options
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Week 4 begins with an AFC divisional battle which, at least on paper, doesn't look to be much of a contest. The 0-3 Cleveland Browns travel to Baltimore to face the 2-1 Ravens.

Of course, they play on a field, not on paper and as the saying goes ... on any given Sunday.

But this is a Thursday night game in front of a national audience and it is hard to see how the Browns' 26th-ranked offense will move the ball with their 28-year-old rookie quarterback and rookie running back.

After a truly ugly season opener against Philadelphia, quarterback Brandon Weeden has shown some ability to move around, passing for 322 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals and 237 yards versus the Buffalo Bills.

But now he'll face the big, bad, Ravens led by Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Under no circumstances should you start Weeden or his mediocre receiving corps of Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, Josh Gordon and Ben Watson.

In fact, the only viable fantasy player on the Browns roster is Trent Richardson. The rookie from Alabama has rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns this season and caught 11 balls for 65 yards, which is worth 48 fantasy points or an average of 16 per week.

He'll face a Baltimore defense ranked just 18th-best and yielding 111.7 yards per game. Unfortunately for Richardson, with little to fear in the passing game, the Ravens will likely stack the line of scrimmage and dare the Browns to throw the ball.

When the Ravens have the ball, they should be able to do pretty much whatever they want. The Browns rank 28th overall, yielding 391.7 ypg, and for the third week will be without suspended cornerback Joe Haden.

The Browns often use Haden to "shadow" opposing No. 1 receivers. Without Haden, the team yielded 34 points to Cincinnati and 24 to Buffalo. Baltimore's offense, averaging 32.7 ppg, is better than the Bengals or Bills and should have its way with the Cleveland defense.

Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 913 yards in three games, second only to Eli Manning, and ranks ninth among fantasy quarterbacks with 52 points. In this matchup, he's a "must-start."

Running back Ray Rice is always a "must-start" barring an injury. He ranks second among backs behind Buffalo's C.J. Spiller in fantasy points this season (66). Last season, Rice rushed for 349 in two games against the Browns.

With Flacco's success comes a corresponding success for his receivers. Torrey Smith has 10 catches this season for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Dennis Pitta, who leads the position in targets with 31, has 188 yards and two TDs. Both should be started this week.

You could even use aging Anquan Boldin if you are behind the eight ball with a couple of teams on bye, though the 31-year-old has lost a step and is just a possession receiver these days.

For those not paying attention, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who beat out Billy Cundiff in the preseason, is perfect on the season with seven field goals and 11 extra points. He possesses a strong leg (2-of-2 at 50 yards or more) and is still available in around half of all leagues.

The game should be a Ravens rout and fantasy owners will want to be a part of it.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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