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How can a team go from an 11-0 Super Bowl favorite to a fantasy pariah? How can the offensive collapse seem to affect the entire team? How can it not find a way to rebound?
It isn’t just the “how” that is the problem, it is the “how long” and “why” the Steelers’ offense has gone belly-up in recent weeks.
It started with a 19-14 win over the Ravens in Week 12 — a game that featured just one offensive touchdown by Pittsburgh. But it was easy to write that one off as a tough rivalry in which defense routinely dominates. Things were going to go back to normal.
It certainly looked that way the following week when Ben Roethlisberger had a pair of first-quarter TD passes, to Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Then the Steelers didn’t score another touchdown the rest of the game while suffering their first loss in a shocking upset to Washington.
Big Ben had two TDs Sunday night against Buffalo, but he also had two interceptions, failed to top 200 yards and managed a paltry 13.5 fantasy points. It was his fourth straight game in which he failed to meet even the 17.8 threshold that represents an “average” QB fantasy game.
But it is much larger than just a Roethlisberger problem. Early season breakout rookie Chase Claypool has fallen off the fantasy map. Near midseason, he routinely was getting more than 70 percent of snaps. The past several weeks, his snap count has generally hovered in the low 60s. And Washington has gotten the deep looks lately, though his target share is such that you can’t confidently put him in a lineup.
So you can’t play Claypool and you can’t have confidence in Washington. How about recent-riser Johnson? He was on a hot streak, scoring 20 or better in PPR formats in four of five games before Sunday’s dud. Oh, and he has a bad case of the dropsies, too.
It also doesn’t happen often that Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster have strong fantasy games at the same time. JuJu has been up and down the past month. So essentially, it is a guessing game which one will have the good week.
And the running game? It has become a phantom. After a steady start to the season, James Conner has hit a roadblock, as well as a battle with COVID. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 8, hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 6 and hasn’t hit 20 PPR fantasy points since Week 3. His replacements, when called upon, haven’t delivered.
So what do you do? Well, good news is the Steelers face the Bengals next. The bad news, Conner stunk a few weeks ago against them. So bench him if you can. With no run support, the air attack has become erratic. Don’t bank on Washington keeping up his TD trend. In the weekly top WR flip-flop, it is Diontae’s turn over JuJu.
As for Big Ben, even against the Bengals, we would rather use Jared Goff or David Carr. And the following week against a stiff Colts defense, with a fantasy championship on the line? We advise you be prepared to bench them all.
Jared Goff QB, Rams
The next two weeks he gets to face the Jets and Seahawks, two of the three worst defenses against opposing fantasy QBs. He can produce even during the rise of Cam Akers and the run game.
Mitchell Trubisky QB, Bears
Has a neutral matchup with the Vikings in Week 15, but in fantasy championship week, he gets a soft Jaguars D. If still alive and streaming, could grab and stash him now.
Ronald Jones RB, Buccaneers
Leonard Fournette was a healthy scratch. And by no means do we consider LeSean McCoy or any of the other Bucs RB scrubs a threat to Jones’ touches. Not concerned with pinkie issue. Start with confidence against the Falcons and Lions.
Brandon Aiyuk WR, 49ers
The outlook for Deebo Samuel appears grim, which opens up more opportunities for Aiyuk. He has been a remarkably steady producer, even with Nick Mullens at QB.
Matt Ryan QB, Falcons
Has one or fewer TD passes in eight games already, hasn’t scored more than 14 fantasy points since Week 9 and has scored above average just twice in the past 11 games.
Raheem Mostert RB, 49ers
Has split carries almost equally with Jeff Wilson Jr. for three weeks since his return. Even with a generous Dallas run defense coming up, if you can find a suitable alternative, do it.
Christian Kirk WR, Cardinals
Has been suffering Travis Fulgham Syndrome. After a huge midseason surge, hasn’t scored double-digits since Week 9. You don’t need him on your roster.
Mike Gesicki TE, Dolphins
Miami is hoping he only misses one game with a shoulder injury. He was just finding his connection with QB Tua Tagovailoa. If he returns Week 16, don’t expect him at full strength. Prepare now to use another option.
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