XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Week 12 comes to a conclusion with the Steelers visiting the Colts for a 39.5 total game with Indy favored by 2.5 points. As I always note, I’m not a line bettor, but I think Indy is the clearly superior team here so I’m surprised they’re only favored by 2.5 at home (which implies the teams are evenly matched, as home-field advantage is generally worth about 3 points in Vegas lines). We’ll see . . . Kenny Pickett has certainly looked better in his last couple of games as the Steelers upset the Saints and put up 30 against the Bengals. Let’s explore.
The Pittsburgh run game starts with Najee Harris, who earlier in the year appeared to be losing snaps to rookie Jaylen Warren based on horrendously inefficient play, but has stepped up of late. In his first eight games of the season, Harris only averaged four yards per carry twice and only saw 20+ running back opportunities twice while playing around 70-75% of the snaps on average (versus last year when he rarely came off the field, with multiple games over 90% of the snaps and 20+ opportunities in 11 of 17 regular season games). Since then, however, Najee has exactly 20 carries in each of the last two games to go along with seven targets and 4.7 yards per carry. The matchup here is rough against Indy’s 6th-ranked run defense by DVOA and Najee’s passing game role has been smaller this year with 3.5 targets per game vs. 5.5 last season (4.4 if you pull out the ridiculous 19-target game he had in Week 3). Running backs always offer stable floors, but this one is a tough sell for me. Harris is a road underdog who has not actually been a bell cow back for most of the season, and his passing game role is more “fine” than the elite level we saw last year, and he’s in a difficult matchup. I’m going to aim to be under the field here. Behind Harris, we’ll have either Jaylen Warren (update: Warren has been ruled out) or Benny Snell. As always, “RB2 in Showdown” is a viable option and often underowned. I would prefer Snell here just because of his price. Snell’s not a special talent but at $200, he would be a very strong value option, while at Warren’s price point he needs to outscore or at least be right around the kickers in order to have a chance at being in a winning lineup.
Ownership updates automatically
In the passing game, the Steelers are in a weird situation. Since Pickett took over at quarterback, Diontae Johnson has seen a combined total of 49 targets while George Pickens has seen just 33, but Pickens has outscored Diontae in four of those six games and Diontae has maxed out at just 11 Draftkings points. Diontae is having a REALLY strange season. He has 86 targets in 10 games (good!) but just 51 catches, 456 receiving yards, and 0 touchdowns (bad!), and his season-high Draftkings scoring is 16.4 points. He’s too talented and seeing too much volume to be this awful all year, but he has frankly been one of the worst starting wideouts in the NFL this season (if not THE worst) by every metric. His price has also fallen to the lowest point we’ve seen, and the Colts are a pass funnel defense (6th in run defense DVOA but 14th in pass defense), and the Steelers are a road underdog, so the volume should be there. Personally, I’m going to watch ownership on this one. If people flock to the brand name and price and drive up his ownership, I’ll come under and hope the inefficiency continues for at least one more game. If it looks like people are shading away from Diontae, I’ll bet on his underlying talent and volume. Pickens, on the other hand, seems to have a real connection with Pickett, and while he’s only averaging 5.5 targets per game in Pickett’s starts, he’s scored a couple of touchdowns and made some really impressive deep catches. I wouldn’t say he’s broken out just yet, but he seems on the path to it (I’ve been playing him a lot on main slates lately and he’s had some solid games while just missing really big ones a couple of times). The WR3 role is currently being split between Gunner Olszewski (formerly of Patriots special teams fame) and Steven Sims Jr. (formerly of no fame whatsoever). Between the pair of them, they have a combined seven targets in the last two games. Chase Claypool being traded has opened up snaps but it has yet to turn into fantasy production. They’re also both $200, which is awfully cheap for even semi-capable pass catchers who are seeing the field a lot so they are viable punt options. Miles Boykin should play a handful of snaps and can be included as an MME punt play, but I’d very much lean toward Gunner and Sims. At tight end, Pat Freiermuth has continued to be a target vacuum despite the change at quarterback, with a whopping 8.75 targets per game in the four fully healthy games he’s played with Pickett. It’s a short area role, so you need the volume, but he’s also tied for the team lead in targets inside the 10-yard line (with a whopping three, good lord this team is bad at scoring touchdowns). Zach Gentry will back up Freiermuth with a limited role of something like 40-55% of the snaps and is a viable punt option. Of the three main Steelers pass catchers, I like Pickens best overall, then Freiermuth, then Diontae.