In this age of offense, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a strange team to boast an inside track on a playoff spot, with an elite defense that ranks third in DVOA, fourth in yards, and seventh in points (while ranking first in sacks and second in turnovers forced) — paired with an offense whose purpose is “to not lose games.” As long as the Steelers are in control of their games (i.e., unless their opponent jumps out to a big lead — which has been extremely difficult to do in this matchup), we can expect them to work the short areas of the field in the pass game while mixing in a few downfield shots. Ultimately, the Steelers want to hit a splash play or two of some sort, and then protect the lead — and if those splash plays happen to come on defense, opportunities for this offense immediately become even thinner.
Even with this game being played on the road, then, that should be the starting point for assessing this game, as the Steelers just have a much better defense than the offense they will be facing this week, with the Jets ranked 32nd in DVOA on offense, 31st in yards, and 28th in points. The Jets also rank 30th in adjusted sack rate on offense and have the ninth most giveaways in the league. Even on a smaller slate, you’re just hoping to capture magic if going to the Jets’ side of the ball. Only the Lions have a lower Vegas-implied team total on this slate.
As is always the case in a “hoping to capture magic” spot, your best bet is for work to concentrate on one player (allowing him to beat the tough matchup through sheer volume) or for big plays to strike. With that said, of course, the Steelers have allowed only two players at any position to top 100 yards against them (while no player has topped 101 yards) and have given up the fewest notable stat lines in the league. If “hoping to capture magic” through big plays, Robby Anderson is your best bet — with the third-deepest aDOT in the NFL, and with 66+ yards in four straight games (86+ in three of four). Naturally, only five teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than Pittsburgh.
The Steelers’ side isn’t much more exciting in this game with the lowest total on the slate (with the Steelers projected for only 20 points of their own). The Steelers rank 30th in DVOA on offense, 30th in yards, and 25th in points, while the Jets quietly rank 13th in DVOA on defense, 10th in yards, and 20th in points (with the points as much about the offense turning the ball over and giving short fields to opponents as anything else). As noted above: the Steelers will be content to win with splash plays on defense if they can — but if they need to win on offense, the air will be their best bet against this Jets team that ranks second in DVOA against the run (24th against the pass) while allowing a ludicrously low 3.16 yards per carry to opposing running backs.
Through the air, JuJu Smith-Schuster appears set to return and throw a wrench into usage, with James Washington coming off recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 4 // 11 and Diontae Johnson seeing 6 // 5 // 8 // 7 in that stretch. While target spikes can happen, expectations heading into this game should be for each of these three guys to max out at around six or seven targets, leaving “big plays” as your friend if going here. All three of J-Wash, JuJu, and Diontae have big-play ability — which lends some small level of relevance to these plays, but also makes it impossible to isolate one player “likeliest” to produce (if any production emerges at all). If you want to chase, the Jets have been above-average this year in all of aDOT, catch rate, and YAC/r, while ranking middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards. It’s really just “picking a guy you like for whatever reason and taking a blind swing there.”
JM’s Interpretation ::
The best thing to say about this game is that it’s unlikely to draw much ownership attention. The Jets have a matchup against an upside-killing Steelers team, and the Steelers aren’t trying to win games with offense so much as they are looking to avoid mistakes and capitalize when they can. This is not typically a recipe for DFS goodness, so consider this a spot to either avoid or bet on for big-play upside — with the three Steelers wideouts the best bets to produce in this manner.