Thursday Night Football Preview
Spread: Steelers -6, Over/Under: 29.5
Welcome to the most exciting game of the year! (If you love low-scoring games.) The New England Patriots travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. Both teams have struggling offenses with subpar quarterbacks at the helm. It doesn’t matter who New England puts out there; they just haven’t been able to move the ball. Pittsburgh had some momentum on offense after letting offensive coordinator Matt Canada go, but Kenny Pickett got injured last week, and Mitchell Trubisky will start in his place. It remains to be seen if that momentum will carry over with a different quarterback.
On the other side of the ball, both defenses have played well this year. Pittsburgh is 5th in defensive DVOA, and the Patriots rank 11th. New England is especially strong against the run, which could further hamper the Steelers with Pickett out. Pittsburgh is exploitable against the pass, but with the QB situation in New England, that might not matter. Part of me wonders if that game total, which at 30.5 is the lowest total since 2005, is low enough.
This is a low-scoring game, so defenses and kickers will be popular. The key to getting this game right will probably be choosing the right Captain, since not many points are expected to be scored. Given the quarterback situation for both teams, I expect the running backs to get a larger than normal workload. For New England, assuming Rhamondre Stevenson misses this game, Ezekiel Elliott will have lead back duties. The Steelers will split between Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren.
I usually like to go contrarian with building tournament lineups, but it’s hard to see a path to New England’s offense having much success against Pittsburgh. I just don’t see enough points being scored to play a heavy Patriots lineup. I think the one way to go contrarian without expecting too much from New England is to use one of their players as Captain and fill out the rest of the lineup with Steelers players in a 5-1 or 4-2 build. Another way, which I really like this week, is to fade both quarterbacks.
Here are the players I’m most interested in using for my lineups this week:
Captain Choices (1.5x salary, 1.5x points)
George Pickens, WR, Steelers ($15,000)
I don’t have a lot of faith is either team’s wide receivers on this slate, but if I have to choose one, I’m going with Pickens. Diontae Johnson get more targets, including end zone targets, but Pickens has a higher ADOT. Johnson is $200 less and will probably be higher owned, so I prefer Pickens slightly.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Patriots ($14,100)
With Rhamondre Stevenson listed as “doubtful” for this game, Elliott becomes the lead back in an offense that is averaging just 139 yards per game the last three weeks. In that same span, they’re averaging 154 rushing yards per game. Elliott should see workhorse usage out of the backfield. On top of that, he catches passes. The Patriots are actually pretty good in the red zone, so if they can make there, which I’m not sure they will, Elliott would be a good bet to score.
Jaylen Warren, RB, Steelers ($12,000)
After two blowup game in a row, Warren has been outscored by Najee Harris the last two weeks. I’m thinking recency bias might drive ownership more towards Harris this week, who is only priced $400 higher than Warren. I think either back is fine in the Captain spot, but I’d lean towards Warren because I think he has more upside.
Top Flex Options
Diontae Johnson, WR, Steelers ($9,800)
I want either Johnson or Pickens in my lineups, for sure. If there’s a passing touchdown, it’ll likely come from one of those two. I’m not sure there will be enough volume to work them both in, so it’s just a matter of who you like better this week.
Najee Harris, RB, Steelers ($8,400)
Similar to Johnson and Pickens, it’s kind of a take your pick scenario when it comes to Harris or Warren. Or, better yet, play them both! Pittsburgh is one of the few teams in the league who are just as likely to score a rushing touchdown as a passing touchdown. I think it’s even more likely with Trubisky as the helm.
Pittsburgh Steelers, DEF ($6,600)
The Steelers defense is an obvious play this week. New England has one of the worst offenses in the league and one of the most turnover-prone teams. They have six turnovers in their last three games. There’s a decent chance Pittsburgh defense gets multiple turnovers and, possibly, a shutout. I wouldn't be surprised if they’re have the highest score on the slate this week. I don’t hate them as a Captain choice, but I’m guessing that will be a popular pick this week, so I’ll use them in the flex to avoid duplicate lineups.
DeVante Parker, WR, Patriots ($5,600)
With the injury issues New England is having at WR, Parker is the only Patriots receiver I’m considering this week. I think he represents their best chace to catch a touchdown this week. If you need a little salary relief, and want to start a Patriots pass-catcher, you can pivot to Hunter Henry. But in all likelihood, I’m not starting either one in very many lineups.
JaMycal Hasty, RB, Patriots ($200)
Hasty is my favorite punt play. At $200, he allows you to build whatever kind of lineup you want. He also has a legit chance to be productive this week. While Zeke will get most of the carries, Hasty will be rotated in and give the Patriots a burst of speed that Elliott lacks.
Ezekiel Elliott (Captain)
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