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Fantasy Football

TNF Fantasy Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns

Mike Fanelli November 14th, 2019 

Two weeks from today is Thanksgiving and that means the NFL regular season is on the back nine. With the San Francisco 49ers losing in overtime Monday night to the Seattle Seahawks, every team has lost at least one game this season. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins pulled off their second straight win, defeating the Indianapolis Colts, throwing NFL draft junkies for a spin. Last week’s Thursday night game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers was entertaining, close, and offered plenty of fantasy points.

To recap last week, I had mixed results. Philip Rivers struggled, throwing three bad interceptions but both Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler scored over 12.5 fantasy points. Both finished in the top 18 running backs last week, with Gordon as the RB6. Josh Jacobs had 19.1 fantasy points, making him tied with Chris Carson for the RB8 last week. Both tight ends disappointed as Hunter Henry finished as the TE10, scoring 13 fantasy points while Darren Waller scored just seven fantasy points, finishing outside the top 20 tight ends for the week. Surprisingly, the Raiders D/ST finished as the D/ST7 last week, in large part thanks to three interceptions and a touchdown. Not my best performance last week, hopefully, I’m better this week, so let’s find out.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback – Mason Rudolph

Since returning from his scary concussion, Rudolph has been good for the Steelers, winning all three games while completing 62.4% of his passes and throwing four touchdowns. However, he hasn’t scored over 17 fantasy points in any game this season. The identity of this team is defense and conservative offensive approach, which doesn’t offer much fantasy upside for Rudolph. The Browns give up three more fantasy points per game than the league average to quarterbacks (16.5) and gave up 25.4 to Josh Allen last week despite not giving up a passing touchdown. While the matchup on paper is appealing, Rudolph shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a mid QB2 for those of you who play in super-flex leagues.

Running Back – James Conner, Jaylen Samuels

After missing the last two games with a shoulder injury, Conner will play tonight. Before the injury, Conner had scored 24 or more fantasy and had 18 plus touches in three of his last four games. He has a total of 18 catches and five touchdowns during that span as well. While Conner was on the sidelines, Samuel stepped up with mixed results.

In the first game filling in for Conner, Samuels scored 19.3 fantasy points mostly because of his 13 catches for 73 yards as he had eight carries for 10 yards on the ground. In his second game on Sunday, Samuels scored seven fantasy points as he averaged just 2.4 yards per touch. With Conner back tonight, I don’t expect Samuel to have a lot of fantasy value. In the two games where Samuels has more than three catches, he is averaging 21.4 fantasy points per game. By comparison, in the games where he has three or fewer catches, he is averaging just three fantasy points per game.

The Browns give up a little more than the league average in fantasy points per game to running backs (22.9) but have been better since their bye week. Running backs are averaging just 17.9 fantasy points per game against the Browns and have scored just one rushing touchdown since their bye week. The expectation is Conner will handle the workload with Samuels getting some snaps as well with Benny Snell ruled out with a knee injury. Conner is a low end RB1 this week while Samuels should be considered a long shot flex option in deeper leagues.

Wide Receiver – JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington

With the limitations at quarterback, the Steelers’ wide receivers have been limited. Smith-Schuster has struggled this season, scoring under 7.5 fantasy points in three of his last four games. Part of the problem is JuJu isn’t seeing enough targets. He has seen more than eight targets just once this season (the one time he scored over 19 fantasy points) and has seen six or fewer targets in almost half his games this season. Given the matchup and fact that he will see plenty of Denzel Ward tonight, I have Smith-Schuster as a risky WR3 and I would bench him if you can.

As I mentioned in the weekly waiver wire adds column, Johnson has been solid since the bye week, scoring 10.4 or more fantasy points in two of the Steelers’ three games. He has seen six or more targets in five of his last seven games. Johnson has stepped up as the WR2 at times for the Steelers but given the matchup, I would leave him on the bench.

Washington has done very little this season, scoring more than 7.5 fantasy points just once before the team’s bye week. However, over the last two weeks, Washington has caught 10 of his 11 targets for 159 yards, one touchdown, and 29.9 fantasy points. His chemistry with Rudolph goes back to their college days at Oklahoma State and it’s starting to show on the NFL level. However, much like Johnson and Smith-Schuster, Washington is a risky WR3 and I would leave him on the bench.

If the matchup was more favorable, I would consider starting all three of these receivers. However, the Browns give up the 12th fewest fantasy points per game, giving up 32.6 per game. Furthermore, the Browns have held wide receivers under 23 fantasy points in just under half their games this season. In addition, they have held wide receivers to just 24.5 fantasy points per game in November. While I would rather stay away from this unit in season-long leagues, I would consider playing Washington in my DFS lineups because of his recent success.

Tight End – Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett

I was a big believer in McDonald entering the season but he is just the TE20 this year, averaging 7.7 fantasy points per game. He has scored under seven fantasy points in 75% of his games this season. Furthermore, he has scored under 6.5 fantasy points in five of his last six games. McDonald is touchdown or bust. In the two games where he reaches the end zone, McDonald is averaging 18.4 fantasy points per game. By comparison, in the games where he doesn’t score, he is averaging just 4.2 fantasy points per game.

Meanwhile, the Browns give up a little more than the league average in fantasy points per game to tight ends, giving up 12.4 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, the Browns have held tight ends under 10 fantasy points in three of their last four games and held them to under four fantasy points twice during that span. McDonald is a desperate TE2 and should be on your league’s waiver wire and if I’m not playing McDonald, there is no way in hell I would play Vannett. I want nothing to do with the Steelers’ tight ends in either season-long leagues or DFS.

Defense/Special Teams

Since week four, the Steelers D/ST is averaging 17 fantasy points per game. Over their last six games, they have four-plus sacks and three-plus turnovers in five of those games and have scored three defensive touchdowns as well. This unit has played excellent football this season and is the D/ST3 on the year. Meanwhile, the Browns’ offense gives up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to D/STs, giving up an average of 8.8 per game. However, over their last four games, D/STs have scored six or fewer fantasy points against the Browns three times, including just three total fantasy points over the last two weeks. The Steelers are a top-five D/ST this week but don’t be surprised if they score under 13 fantasy points for the first time since week four.

Cleveland Browns

Quarterback – Baker Mayfield

Despite all the preseason hype, Mayfield has struggled, averaging 12.6 fantasy points per game, good for the QB23 this season. However, he has been better lately, scoring 17 or more fantasy points in three of his last four games with the exception being against the Patriots in New England (where every quarterback struggles). During that span, Mayfield has six touchdowns and has thrown an interception in just two of those games. With that being said, Mayfield is a QB2 this week against a tough Steelers defense.

The Steelers give up the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, giving up just 13.6 per game. They have held quarterbacks under 15 fantasy points in six of their last seven games. Furthermore, they have held quarterbacks under 12 fantasy points in more than half their games this season. Since their bye week, the Steelers have held quarterbacks under 11.5 fantasy points in two of three games and have given up just five passing touchdowns during that span. Mayfield’s fantasy playoff schedule is very fantasy friendly with matchups against the Bengals and Cardinals but until then, I would leave him on the waiver wire.

Running Back – Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt

In his first game back from his suspension, Hunt scored 14.4 fantasy points as he had a big day in the passing game, catching seven balls for 44 yards. He also had four carries for 30 yards. It’s hard to determine if this is the “first game back let’s get him heavily involved in the game plan” or will this be Hunt’s fantasy outlook for the rest of the season. Because of the uncertainty and the tough matchup, I have Hunt outside my top 30 running backs this week and would prefer to leave him on the bench if possible as he is a high risk, high reward flex option at this point.

Meanwhile, Chubb scored 14.1 fantasy points last week, doing the majority of his damage on the ground as he rushed 20 times for 116 yards. I don’t believe Hunt is much of a threat to Chubb’s rushing attempts as Chubb got five times the amount of attempts as Hunt last week but Chubb’s targets are at risk. In the three-game before Hunt’s return, Chubb had 10 catches and averaged 3.1 catches per game this season. He should see the majority of the carries again tonight and despite a tough matchup, Chubb is a low-end RB1 this week.

The Steelers give up the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, giving up just 19.5 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, since their bye week, the Steelers have held running backs under 9.5 fantasy points twice and under 15 fantasy points in all three games. They have held running backs under 17 fantasy points in six straight games. The matchup makes me worry about both Browns running backs and while I will play Chubb with a fair amount of confidence, I will be focused on seeing how many and what kind of touches both backs get tonight.

Wide Receiver – Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway

There are zero reasons why anyone should start Higgins or Callaway in season-long leagues this week, maybe they could be a high-risk high reward DFS option but no chance they belong on your season-long lineups. Despite struggling this season, the WR26 for the season, I’m still sticking with OBJ as a must start. While I don’t feel great about playing him, I’m an “always play your studs” kind of owner. He is averaging just 12.6 fantasy points per game and has scored more than 16.5 fantasy points just once this season. OBJ has been getting enough targets this season, averaging 8.8 per game but had just one touchdown, and that is what has hurt his fantasy value.

The Steelers give up an average of just one touchdown per game to wide receivers this season and that makes Beckham’s chances of scoring tonight slim. However, Steelers’ cornerback Joe Haden is listed as questionable with an illness and if he misses the game, I like OBJ more. If Haden plays OBJ is a mid WR2 with the potential to always have a big day but if Haden is out, OBJ jumps into the low-end WR1 group.

While OBJ has struggled this season, his best friend, Landry, has been pretty solid. Landry is the WR20 on the season, averaging 13.7 fantasy points per game. However, over the last two weeks, Landry has been Mayfield’s go-to guy. Over that span, Landry has 15 catches on 23 targets for 148 yards, two touchdowns, and 41.8 fantasy points. Between the two star receivers, I trust Landry more, especially in PPR, because the Steelers have struggled at times against slot receivers and Landry offers a safer floor with a similar upside to OBJ.

For the season, the Steelers give up a little more than the league average in fantasy points per game to wide receivers, giving up 34.6 fantasy points per game. However, since their bye week, wide receivers have scored 40 or more fantasy points against the Steelers in two of their three games. Wide receivers have scored four touchdowns during that span as well. Furthermore, the Steelers have given up 40 or more fantasy points to wide receivers in almost half of their games this season. I would start both Landry and OBJ tonight but have more faith in Landry, especially in PPR.

Tight End – Ricky Seals-Jones, Demetrius Harris

The Steelers give up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, giving up 14.8 per game, 3.1 more than the league average. However, despite the good matchup, there is no reason to start Seals-Jones or Harris tonight. Seals-Jones is listed as questionable but practiced fully on Wednesday and should play. Either way, the duo of Seals-Jones and Harris combines for 8.7 fantasy points per game. Harris has just one game this season scoring more than 7.2 fantasy points this season while Seals-Jones has just two games scoring more than 3.2 fantasy points. I hate both guys so much this week, I would rather play both kickers (for around the same price on DraftKings) than either of the Browns’ tight ends in DFS.

However, the normal starting tight end for the Browns, David Njoku, is eligible to come off injured reserve next week and has publicly said he expects to play against the Dolphins. Over their last two games, the Dolphins have given up 35 fantasy points to tight ends and they offer a good matchup for Njoku in his first game back. With Travis Kelce and Henry on a bye next week, be smart and grab Njoku now before you see him in all the waiver wire add columns next week. Njoku is owned in just 17.7% of ESPN leagues.

Defense/Special Teams

The Browns D/ST ranks in the bottom 10 this season, averaging just 4.6 fantasy points per game. They haven’t scored more than five fantasy points since week four and have scored 10 or more just once this season. Meanwhile, until last week, D/STs haven’t scored more than nine fantasy points in any game this season against the Steelers’ offense. The Rams scored 20 fantasy points last week but almost of those fantasy points came on a defensive touchdown. Before that game, D/STs were averaging 5.6 fantasy points per game, a little under the league average. The Browns D/ST is outside my top 20 for the week and I would leave them on the waiver wire unless I was really desperate.

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