CHIEFS // STEELERS OVERVIEW
Game of the week? Uh…yeah.
This is the game that will draw the most DFS attention (honestly, it probably won’t be particularly close), and for very good reason. Last week, James Conner and Tyreek Hill were two of the biggest hits on the slate, and each has a better matchup this week. Patrick Mahomes looks like a legit Upside god. Antonio Brown will be featured heavily against one of the weakest secondaries in the NFL. And buried under all those plays are guys like Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt — each of whom has legit week-winning upside.
This game should be a central focus for each of us in our roster builds — as even the rosters on which we use no players from this game will have to account for the fact that this game exists.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
Pittsburgh was one of the best defenses in the NFL last year at generating pressure, ranking fifth in pressure rate when rushing only four guys, and ranking third in pressure rate when rushing more than four. Against a rookie gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes, there will likely be opportunities for turnovers and sacks, and I expect the Steelers to show some exotic pressure looks this week in an effort to confuse Mahomes and force him into mistakes.
With that said: Mahomes has started his career with a game in Denver (last year in Week 17) and a game against the Chargers — which are two of the toughest quarterback tests possible right now. He aced both matchups, posting a combined 540 yards, with four touchdowns, one interception, and only three sacks taken. Mahomes finished second in the league last week in average intended air yards.
Mahomes has also done well against two different styles of defense, and the Chargers’ zone-heavy scheme is similar to what the Steelers like to do. Each defense attempts to create tight windows all across the field — not taking away any particular area, but allowing low catch rates at all levels. Like the Chargers, the Steelers are below-average in stopping yards-after-catch; and like the Chargers, the Steelers present a perfect opportunity for an offensive mind like Andy Reid’s to scheme his best playmakers into the weakest spots of the zone. Tyreek Hill operated as Mahomes’ clear number one target in the preseason, and he hauled in 46.7% of the team’s receptions in Week 1. Travis Kelce has a difficult matchup against a Pittsburgh defense that ranked first in DVOA against the position last season, though he has the talent to beat a difficult matchup. Sammy Watkins is still not integrated into this offense yet, and all signs point to his “blowup games” this season being impossible to predict.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
Well. It happened. Last week in this space, we worried that some Sundays will end this season, and we’ll wonder how in the world Kareem Hunt did not see the ball more. There is no rhyme or reason here. We have a guy who, by many measures, may actually have been the best all-around running back in the NFL last season…and who received only six carries inside the five-yard-line in 2017, and would randomly disappear into a low-volume hole. The matchup is friendly (last season, the Steelers ranked 18th in DVOA against the run and 27th in yards allowed per carry, and they especially struggled after losing Ryan Shazier), and Hunt literally has the upside to post the highest score on the slate. But I’m sliding him into the Cam Newton category for now: “He can always go off…but he is also going to get you some unpredictable duds.”
We’ve seen this before from Andy Reid (most recently with Jamaal Charles and with early-career Kelce). Game Day overwhelms him at times, and usage on certain star players can be anyone’s guess from week to week.
STEELERS PASS OFFENSE
Only three teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards per game last year than the Chiefs, and that was with All Pro Marcus Peters on one side of the field and a healthy Eric Berry at safety. Peters is now with the Rams and Berry is looking doubtful to play this week after missing Week 1.
Only two teams passed for more yards last year than the Steelers.
As we discussed last week, the Chiefs like to take away the short area of the field and force teams to throw the ball downfield.
Here are two charts that should pop off the page to us — each courtesy of airyards.com. The first is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s catch rate by depth of target, compared to the league average. The second is Antonio Brown’s catch rate by depth of target since 2015, compared to the league average.
Each guy sets up perfectly in this matchup — and as an added bonus, the Chiefs are one of the man-heaviest coverage schemes in the NFL (last year, they ran man coverage a league-leading 46.3% of the time, according to PFF). Antonio Brown has traditionally wrecked man coverage in his career, and the last time these teams played (in 2017, with better personnel in the Chiefs’ secondary), he posted an 8-155-1 line on 10 targets. Brown unsurprisingly doubled up JuJu in targets last week, and is the preferred Floor play, but each guy carries a huge ceiling in this spot.
The tight end is not typically featured in this offense, but the matchup is fine for Jesse James or (if he gets cleared) Vance McDonald, as long as Eric Berry is out. James carries touchdown upside and McDonald carries yardage and touchdown upside, but both have low floors.
STEELERS RUN OFFENSE
Only seven teams allowed more rushing yards last season than the Chiefs, and only nine teams allowed more yards per rush attempt. This is a total shift from the matchup James Conner had last week, against a Browns defense that was quietly spectacular against the run last year. Conner touched the ball 36 times last week and played 91.8% of the team’s snaps. Are you kidding?
As long as Le’Veon Bell is out, Conner should be considered a clear value until he reaches Bell’s typical price range. At 13.4% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 13.1% on FantasyDraft, he’s underpriced for his matchup and expected workload. At 11.67% of the salary cap on FanDuel, he is laughably underpriced.
Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are theoretically difficult to trust in cash games, on the road, in a tough on-paper matchup; but given the way Hill has been used and the way Mahomes matches up with him, we should honestly be surprised if Hill fails in this spot. The matchup is difficult, but Andy Reid will find ways to get Hill the ball in open space. He’s a borderline cash play and a strong tourney play. Mahomes will need to be aggressive in this game to keep up with the Steelers’ offense, putting him into the “borderline cash play, strong tourney play” bucket as well.
Kelce and Watkins have low, price-considered floors, but each has upside. Obviously, Kelce is far likelier to hit for a big game than Watkins.
Hunt has no concerns in terms of talent or matchup, and his price is fair for the upside; but Opportunity concerns keep him out of the Core Player discussion this week.
I will have a difficult time moving off Antonio Brown and James Conner this week, while Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster will have heavy tourney consideration for me as well. Honestly, I would not even be surprised to see these guys hovering around my cash game lineups, either. With how focused the Steelers’ distribution of offensive touches is, all three of Conner/A.B./Smith-Schuster can be used on the same roster together. Last week, these three combined for 93.8% of the Steelers’ catches and carries. That might be the stat of the week. It’s never a poor idea to load up on over 90% of the touches on what could easily be the highest-scoring offense of the week.
SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Joe Haden is doubtful for the Steelers. This gives a small bump to the matchup for Patrick Mahomes, who already has all the upside in the world.