Last week was pretty ugly from a “value quarterback” perspective — and as such, we ended up with Ryan Finley on our Bottom-Up Build in the Angles Pod (breaking our month-long streak of on-fire cheap QBs in that spot). In that space (as well as in the NFL Edge), we detailed the reasons why we couldn’t be certain Finley was even a major downgrade from Andy Dalton, and why he had some paths to a strong game against the poor defense of the Raiders. And while we made it clear that Finley was obviously not the same (in a Bottom-Up Build sense) as the recent Ryan Tannehill // Ryan Fitzpatrick // Jacoby Brissett weeks in that podcast, I did still use Finley on a small percentage of my tourney teams last week — hoping that the matchup could overcome the marginal talent this team had to work with. Obviously, that did not prove to be the case (and instead, we saw Jeff Driskel — whom we fortunately got onto a bit more heavily on Saturday night in the Run To Daylight podcast, at the top of the Player Grid — post a strong score in a tougher matchup with much better weapons to lean on), and now we have Finley, potentially without Auden Tate, taking on the ferocious defense of the Steelers. The Steelers rank third in overall defensive DVOA (behind only New England and San Francisco), with an eighth place ranking vs the run and a fifth place ranking vs the pass. The Steelers have the fourth most sacks in the league (after having posted the most each of the last two years), and they have forced the second most turnovers. After DeVante Parker’s 100-yard game against the Bills last week, the Steelers are now also the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a wide receiver to crack 100 yards against them.
Of course, the fact that DeVante Parker was the player who topped 100 yards against the Bills is a reminder that anything can happen — and in fact, you will occasionally see really sharp DFS players include affordable, heavy-volume wide receivers on a team likely to be chasing points as part of their MME (and even tighter) builds (Awesomeo and ChipotleAddict, in particular, come to mind here; if memory serves correct, each featured Parker last week — including ChipotleAddict on tighter builds — while each has also recently featured cheap exposure to Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson). But this approach is more valuable when a team should be chasing points — and given the state of the Steelers offense (more on this in a moment), it’s not even a guarantee that the Bengals will be airing it out here. “Potential volume at low ownership” are the bets you would be making in this spot if chasing Bengals pass catchers in large-field play.
The Bengals run game warrants a little more attention, as Joe Mixon has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16, while producing rush + receiving yardage totals of 77 // 151 // 103. As explored last week: the Bengals have shifted up their run-blocking scheme in recent weeks, and they have been producing better efficiency as a result (Mixon has 4.3 yards per carry across his last three games, against 3.6 yards per carry on the season as a whole). This game is also unlikely to get too far away from the Bengals. Of course: all of this is said against the backdrop of A) this being a tough matchup, and B) Mixon not yet having posted a remotely tourney-winning price-considered score this season (on an offense that is not set up to score many points). But if you’re wanting to dig deep in this game, Mixon is at least a name that warrants a half-second of attention.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are set to be playing without JuJu Smith-Schuster and currently appear likely to be without James Conner as well. Diontae Johnson (who was bleeding from the ear after the hit on which he sustained a concussion last week) seems to be doing better after logging a full participation in practice on Wednesday — and while he has not yet been fully cleared, he is on track to play.
The game plan for the Steelers should be straightforward in this spot against an 0-10 Bengals team that has faced the lowest opponent pass play rate in the league (while ranking 24th in DVOA against the run and allowing 4.7 yards per carry) — especially with Mason Rudolph under center and a defense that should be able to win this game for them. Expect the Steelers to be “balanced toward the run” in this spot (i.e., still mixing in passes early on, of course — but with short passes and the ground game being the primary focus), with the Steelers optimally hoping that the Bengals crumble as this game moves along, allowing them to pick up an easy win without taking too many risks or being too aggressive.
In Week 8 against the Dolphins, JuJu (24.3 DK/FDraft points; 18.8 FD points) posted the only game of the season from a Steelers wide receiver that would be worth using at the matchup-adjusted prices where we find Diontae and Washington this week. There should be more work available for these two than normal with JuJu out, but in this offense, each player will need more than just “more work” to resemble an ultra-strong play. Diontae and Washington are both “solid plays that will need something to go right in order to hit for some sort of ceiling.”
“Bull with the ball in his hands” Vance McDonald has disappointed this year — with seven targets in three consecutive games (and seven targets in four games this season in all), but with zero games north of 40 yards. NextGen Stats has Vance tracked with the lowest aDOT in the entire NFL among qualified players, so you’re betting on an unpredictable multi-touchdown game or a big YAC day if going here. (If you want to chase that second scenario: the Bengals do boost YAC by 36.5% — by far the highest mark in football. Vance is not likely to hit, but this is a better spot than others.)
Of course, the focus for the Steelers should be the ground game — which creates an interesting setup if Conner does indeed miss, as Jaylen Samuels has 26 targets but only 27 carries across his last three games, and Benny Snell returned to practice this week and will likely take over ground game duties from Trey Edmunds. If Snell and Conner both miss, it’s worth noting that Edmunds has zero rushes to the edge this season (which — as we have talked about all season — is the place to attack the Bengals, as they are much tougher up the gut), while Snell is at risk of being eased back in if he’s the lead guy. Unless we end up with Conner back on the field here, there will be a lot of uncertainty in this spot — on a bad offense playing on the road. The matchup will be great, but that’s about what you’ll be left betting on in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I honestly might not end up with anything in this game outside of the Steelers defense, as the Bengals are just unattractive across the board for me in this spot, while the Steelers have been priced up a bit high for the actual offense they give us. (Jaylen Samuels at $7200 on DraftKings? Give me a break! He needs about 22 or 23 points just to be worth having on your roster, and he needs 28+ to really contribute toward a tourney win. Not that he can’t get there, but the matchup will draw some ownership, and his chances of hitting such a score will be lower than the percentage at which he’ll be owned.) With that said: pricing as a whole is a bit ugly this week, and while that leads me to be extra judicious in the ways I spend salary myself (making sure that any high-priced guys I grab have a solid shot at true slate-breakers), Samuels will certainly not be a “bad play” if Conner is out. And while Conner will carry re-injury risk if he plays, he’ll come with a high ceiling as well. I also think Diontae and Washington are interesting, as each will get work, and one should post a nice game — though the likeliest scenario here doesn’t have slate-winning upside coming out of this spot, and one of these two is also likeliest to fall short of the sort of score you need. Again: not bad plays, but I’m hoping to find better. (Goodness — what a slate.)
Finally: we don’t usually get into DST until Friday/Saturday, but the Steelers obviously stand out on this slate. Even on the road, they’re in a great spot for a high-end game against Ryan Finley and the Bengals.