XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Monday Night Football brings us what might be another snoozefest as the Browns visit the Steelers for a mediocre 42 point total game, with Pittsburgh favored by one point. As I write this, I’m watching the disaster of a Sunday night game so this should hopefully be more interesting since at least the score should be fairly close.
Ownership updates automatically
On the Cleveland side, it looks like Kareem Hunt may return to take up his split role in the backfield. This doesn’t really impact Nick Chubb all that much, however, as Chubb hasn’t really seen a tremendous amount more work this season when Hunt has been out. Chubb himself is still a strong play as the primary engine of the offense, just recognize that as he’s primarily a yardage and touchdown back, and his high ceiling also comes with a very low floor. Chubb has four games under 10 DK points this season which is not ideal for a guy priced at $11.6k. But, we know the Browns want to run, we know they’re an elite rushing offense, and the Steelers have sunk all the way down to 30th in run defense DVOA. The matchup doesn’t get much better than this. As for Hunt, his workload here would be uncertain. He’s only played two games since Week 6 (and he barely played in either of them), he’s coming back from an ankle injury, he only got two limited practices in this week, and he spent time on the COVID list. Hunt would be an ownership play to me: if people are scared of him and ownership projections have him really low, I’m okay being overweight here. But if people see a $5,400 Kareem Hunt and flock to him as a strong on-paper value play, then I would want to go the other way and bet that his role would be limited in his first game back. If Hunt misses, D’Ernest Johnson would be Chubb’s backup, a role that produced just 11 running back opportunities in the last two games since we last saw Hunt. Demetric Felton might also see a couple of snaps if you want to include him in your MME punt pool.
At wide receiver, the Browns are back to full strength, with Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Rashard Higgins playing the primary roles while Anthony Schwartz occasionally mixes in. On a run-first offense that would like to hold their QB to 30 or fewer pass attempts, any Browns pass-catcher is a bit of a scary play. Landry is clearly the safest option, and at $8,400, his price is reasonable for his role. Landry can occasionally get to double-digit targets in close games, which this game projects to be, and the matchup here is favorable as Pittsburgh is most vulnerable to slot receivers (to be clear, they’re kind of vulnerable everywhere this season). Landry only has one touchdown but a solid 10 red zone targets (most of the wideouts), so I see upside here as well. Of the other two, personally, I prefer DPJ to Higgins, though it’s pretty coin-flippy. DPJ has a more volatile role as the primary deep threat receiver, but that also brings him ceiling, while Higgins’ role has been kind of up and down all season (at one point it looked like the Browns were going to phase him out of the offense before bringing him back in so that just creates a bit of uncertainty that I’m a little wary of). At tight end, the Browns have all three of Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant healthy again, which means they go back to their 3-way timeshare. Hooper and Njoku play significantly more snaps than Bryant, and both have strong red zone roles with 15 targets for Hooper, 10 for Njoku, and just 3 for Bryant. At their prices, I prefer Njoku first, as he and Hooper are pretty even in terms of workload and production, but Njoku is $1k cheaper. Bryant at $3,000 is a touchdown-or-bust MME only play for me as he only has 24 targets on the year, he doesn’t have a well-established red zone role compared to the other two tight ends, and he’s priced well above a punt option.
On the Steelers side, we know the deal with their running game: it’s Najee Harris all day unless the game is a ridiculous blowout, and even then, Harris will still see a tremendous snap share. Harris played 78% of the snaps and saw 26 opportunities in last week’s curb-stomping by the Chiefs, while Benny Snell played 22% of the snaps and saw 6 opportunities. The Steelers do still have faint playoff hopes, so as long as this game remains competitive, I don’t see any risk of them deciding to shut Najee down in his rookie season. Of the three guys priced above $10k in this game, I think Harris has the safest floor.
In the passing game, it’s primarily Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, with Ray-Ray McCloud looking to have passed James Washington in the depth chart the last few weeks, and then some guy named Cody White getting blowout run last week and playing 39% of the snaps. I feel fairly confident White only played because of the blowout, and that the snap count is a mirage that will disappear this week. I’ll let other people chase that if they want to. We’ve had a bunch of Steelers Showdowns so by now you guys know the drill. Diontae is a near-lock for double-digit targets every game. They’ll mostly be short targets, and the overall offensive efficiency is questionable, but his floor is rock-solid and he leads the team in red zone targets by a country mile (27 vs. 18 for Pat Freiermuth, 14 for Najee, and 13 for Claypool). Poor Claypool has had an incredibly disappointing sophomore season with just one game over 20 DK points, one game over 100 receiving yards, one game over double-digit targets, and just one touchdown. Yikes. He’s still on the field a ton and still getting opportunities, but I think I actually prefer the Cleveland guys that he’s priced near over him. The only thing in his favor is that he’s kind of at an awkward price point with only one player within $1,200 of him and that usually tends to lead to pretty modest ownership. I’ll keep an eye here to decide what I want to do with him. McCloud is an incredibly low-upside player who is averaging just 6.6 yards per catch, so even at $3,400, he’ll need a pile of catches or a touchdown to pay off. Washington is the opposite, as he has some legitimate deep-ball juice and can get there on just a couple of plays. He’s also $1,200 cheaper, so even though he’s on the field less than McCloud, I prefer him as a play. At tight end, Pat Freiermuth is back and he’s a guy I’m excited to play, as we’ve attacked Cleveland’s defense with tight ends for years now. Freiermuth has a big role as he’s second on the team in red zone targets despite beginning the year in a timeshare with Eric Ebron. I love him here and want to be overweight. Zach Gentry will back him up but is primarily a blocker, having garnered just 18 targets on the season.
The way this game is likeliest to play out is slow and grinding. Cleveland very much wants to run and play slow, and while Pittsburgh passes at the third-highest rate in the league, they’ll slow things down if playing from ahead or if the game is close. The way this game goes differently is if one team jumps out to a multiple-score lead, which is unlikely here but possible. Let’s consider a few different game scenarios we might see:
- One team could fail to show up. I think Pittsburgh is more likely to fail here, as we’ve seen them really flounder this season in a few spots (Cleveland’s offensive strength lines up well with Pittsburgh’s point of vulnerability, so while anything is possible, it feels less likely that the Browns just fall flat here).
- I expect a lot of ownership on the run games here, with Chubb and Harris likely to be two of the three or four highest-owned players on the slate. The easiest way to be different in this one, to me, is to simply bet on all of the touchdowns coming through the air.
In cash, my player pool consists of the quarterbacks, Harris, Diontae (if I can afford him, which I kind of doubt), the kickers, and then I’m okay using someone like Freiermuth or Njoku if I happen to land there on salary. I don’t think I’d be willing to go any cheaper than Washington (and I would really rather not go to him).
In tournaments, I want to be overweight captain on Landry, DPJ, Njoku, Freiermuth, and Diontae.
Some groups to consider
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain pass catchers with their QBs (or consider boosting the QB if using a captain receiver if you don’t want 100% exposure to this pairing – discussed in further detail in the 2020 update to my Advanced Showdowns course)
- If using an RB captain, apply a negative correlation to the opposing defense and kicker (you can see how to do so in my FantasyLabs tutorial video)
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 pass catchers
- At most 2 Browns tight ends
- At most 1 of McCloud and Washington
- At most 1 of Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson if trying to target the RB2 spot for Cleveland (assuming they’re both active, of course)