Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Sunday night brings us a showdown of two playoff contenders with modest offenses, elite defenses, and a game total of just 37 points with the home Steelers favored by a point. If I were a line-betting guy (to be clear here, I am not), I would take Buffalo, as while both defenses are legit, the Bills offense strikes me as a whole lot more capable than Pittsburgh’s.
We’ll start picking this one apart with Pittsburgh and the run game, where James Conner is expected to return from a multi-week absence. Conner has been practicing in full and it would make no sense for the Steelers, as a playoff contender, to bring him back this late in the season if they weren’t confident that he’s healthy. NFL teams do weird things, but I’d expect Conner to step back into his regular workload here, which makes him one of the strongest plays on the slate as a 3-down back with a solid pass game role. Buffalo is a bit of a run funnel, ranking 5th in DVOA against the pass but just 17th against the run, so if this one remains close enough for the Steelers to lean on the run (which it should) then they should be able to find success on the ground. If you want to bet that Conner doesn’t resume his full workload right away, Benny Snell has handled 16+ touches in his last 3 games (almost all carries), while Jaylen Samuels has 2+ targets in every game from Week 4 onward. Both are cheap and, barring news indicating Conner is to be eased back in, both should be low owned.
The Pittsburgh passing game is awfully hard to bet on here. JuJu Smith-Schuster is out again, which leaves guys like Diontae Johnson and James Washington being quarterbacked by Duck Hodges against one of the top secondaries in the NFL. Football is weird and anything can happen, but this is a rough matchup any way you look at it. That said: Washington has finally been flashing some of his preseason promise with 90+ yards in three of his last five games, and he has plenty of big play potential. Personally, when picking guys against elite secondaries, I prefer the big play guy who can get it done off of one broken play over the shorter-distance receiver who needs to beat said elite secondary over and over again in order to have a big game. I’ll take Washington over Diontae Johnson, who is a tougher sell with just 11.5 yards per catch and a similar price point. Past those two, you’re looking at really thin dart throws. Nick Vannett steps into a full-time role with Vance McDonald out, so he’s my favorite of the thin receiving options because he’ll at least be on the field a lot. Past that, you’re looking at Tevin Jones and Deon Cain, whose realistic target expectations are something like 1 or 2. That said, if this game really ends with neither team getting to 20 points, it’s entirely possible that the optimal lineup could include a guy who has one catch for a touchdown.
On the Buffalo side, Devin Singletary is at long last taking over a larger share of the running back work from Frank Gore. Up until Week 10, Singletary had been a 65-70% of the snaps guy at the very most, while from Week 11 onwards he hasn’t dropped below 70% and was at 81% last week. Gore is, unsurprisingly, looking less effective as the season goes on, while Singletary is averaging a whopping 5.6 yards per carry and showing solid aptitude in the passing game as well. Singletary versus Conner is an interesting decision point in this showdown. Conner is more expensive and is coming off of an injury but is a very modest home favorite and has an easier matchup against a middling Buffalo run defense. Singletary is healthier with a more certain workload but is on the road and going up against a Steelers defense that is ranked 4th in DVOA against the run. The final component here is that the Pittsburgh offensive line is one of the worst in the league at 26th in offensive line yards, while Buffalo ranks 9th here. So, basically, the difference in run defense DVOA is just about equivalent to the difference in offensive line ranking. Given that, I’ll lean Singletary over Conner as the slightly stronger play. Frank Gore is, as always, a touchdown or bust option.
The Bills’ passing offense is a whole lot more attractive to me than Pittsburgh’s. The matchup is just as bad, but I’ll take Josh Allen, John Brown, and Cole Beasley as the more talented trio compared to Hodges, Washington, and Johnson. The Steelers secondary has been lights out this season, so expectations should be tempered, but John Brown has been one of the most consistent receivers in the league this year and seems like a safe bet to at least not fail while also possessing one of the highest ceilings in this game. Beasley is more of a floor than ceiling play with just four games under 10 DK points this year, but at $9,800 he’s priced more for his ceiling and is at least $1,000 too expensive, if not $2,000. Isaiah McKenzie is playing a very healthy snap share for a $3k receiver, while Robert Foster has James’ Washington’s ceiling to go along with a floor of 0 DK points and makes a somewhat interesting tournament dart if you think he can match the 4 targets he saw last week (of course, since he didn’t catch any of those 4, maybe he gets his work scaled back again). Tight end Dawson Knox seems to have taken over Tyler Kroft’s job with the lion’s share of the snaps and 4 targets in each of his last two games (to go along with some truly fantastic hair), making him a highly viable punt play at $3,200. Kroft has been reduced to a touchdown or bust dart throw.
The way this game is likeliest to play out is a slow grindfest with both teams focused on the ground. It would not surprise me to see one or even zero wide receivers in the optimal lineup when all is said and done here. Both defenses are viable, as are both kickers.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- Is it possible we could see the game go over, and not just over, but way over? Anything’s possible, I suppose.
- More likely is that one of these elite defenses is able to just clamp down on the opposing offense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either team really struggle here, with the Steelers seeming to me to be the team more likely to do so.
My favorite overall captain here is Devin Singletary, followed by Washington and Allen. I also want a bit of Snell exposure in case Conner isn’t fully ready.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain Hodges with at least 2 receivers and captain Allen with at least 1 receiver
- Given the nature of these offenses I would seriously consider some very broad rules of at most 2 wide receivers or tight ends from either team.
JM’s Notes for Thursday-to-Monday Players ::
- The addition of Showdown slates has been great for DFS fun and profitability, but one of the issues presented with the introduction of Showdown (and the subsequent removal of the Sunday night game from the main slate) has been late season flex scheduling removing some of the more attractive games from the slate each weekend. This week’s matchup between the Bills and the Steelers, then, is a real treat for us, as this is a great game for NBC to feature on Sunday night between two legitimate playoff contenders who are both some levels of enjoyable to watch, while not removing one of the more attractive games from the main slate. In fact, Bills at Steelers gives us the lowest-total game on the entire weekend – and given that this weekend offers quite a few attractive spots (not to even mention the handful of less attractive Over/Unders that still have a shot at producing viable fantasy scores), it’s fair to say that this game would very clearly fall into the “hope and pray” category if it were featured on the main slate; a sentiment enhanced further when looking at the 16-game, Thursday-to-Monday slate.
- If “guessing and hoping” on the Bills against a Steelers team that has allowed zero running backs, one wide receiver, and one tight end to crack 100 yards (and no players to crack 102 yards), your best bet would be Devin Singletary in his locked-in role as the timeshare leader on Buffalo. Behind Singletary, the highest-usage players are John Brown and Cole Beasley. None of these guys are sharp options on the 16-game slate, but these would be the places to chase if hoping to catch lightning with a slate-winning game.
- The Steelers are equally unattractive as a team that aims to win with defense and a slowed-down, mistake-free offense – in a matchup that sets up well for this approach. James Conner appears on track to return, making him a “bet on volume” option, while James Washington and Diontae Johnson remain “hope for a big play” options, with JuJu Smith-Schuster joining them under this label if he returns to the field this week.
- As always in a spot like this, it really only makes sense to take on the risk of these low floors if you feel like you can target slate-winning ceiling in this spot. Absent that, this spot – with the lowest total on a massive slate – instead makes sense to leave alone.