Who doesn’t want an AFC North battle in primetime? Fantasy football matchups are likely to come down to Monday Night with two games on the final day of the week and there are some true game-changers on the slate. For the Cleveland Browns fantasy breakdown, the focus is on the passing game while the curiosity around the Pittsburgh Steelers fantasy ranking is centered around Najee Harris’ role.
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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Spread: Browns -2
- Total: 39
- Browns implied points: 20.5
- Steelers implied points: 18.5
Deshaun Watson: Watson looked out of sorts last week against one AFC North foe, and I fear we could see more of the same in another bar fight-type of game. He was able to salvage his fantasy afternoon in Week 1 with a 13-yard touchdown run, but 5.3 yards per attempt is a problem.
MORE: PFN Consensus Rankings
Against the Bengals, Watson wasn’t able to get a single pass-catcher over 43 yards, and the two receivers that cleared 25 yards combined to catch only 42.9% of their targets. I think better times are ahead — especially with the Rams, Jags, Bears, and Texans in succession in December — but fantasy managers may need to wait one more week.
Watson is my QB14 for Week 2 and that’s trending down more than up with Amari Cooper aggravating a groin injury on Saturday.
Kenny Pickett: Pickett was forced to throw 46 passes in the Week 1 blowout loss, and it wasn’t pretty: 232 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. I’m not reading too much into his struggles, given the opponent, but his single rush attempt has me worried a bit in my evaluation of him as an athlete with an elevated fantasy floor.
He will be without Diontae Johnson for this game – a game that comes against a Browns team that held him to 13 completions on 29 attempts to end last season. Pickett isn’t a top-20 quarterback for me this week, but patient fantasy managers in a Superflex setting will be rewarded before long, with the Raiders and Texans coming up next.
Nick Chubb: Chubb is my RB4 this week and is a DFS lock for anyone playing the two-game slate. He caught all four of his targets in the season opener, a role we hoped he’d take on with Kareem Hunt no longer in the mix.
All Chubb did last season was cruise past 110 total yards and score in both Pittsburgh games. These are stats I think he has a good chance at producing in this spot.
Najee Harris: Reports surfaced last weekend that this could turn into a committee sooner than later, and a 33-25 snap split with Jaylen Warren would suggest that we are in that territory. Of course, the blowout nature of this game made the Pittsburgh ground game useless, but I don’t think that will consistently be an issue, so Harris remains my top-ranked Steelers back for now.
He has scored in all four of his career games against the Browns and slides in as a low-end RB2 for me this week.
Jaylen Warren: Warren picked up just 18 yards on his eight Week 1 touches, a role that isn’t largely enough to hold standalone value. On a positive note, he was targeted on 31.6% of his routes against the 49ers, which far out-paced Harris’ 8.3% rate. Warren is a fine trade target in the short term for fantasy managers looking to play the long game.
Amari Cooper: I’m willing to write off the Week 1 performance of three catches for 37 yards. The Browns led for the majority of the game, the weather wasn’t great, and they elected to run the ball 40 times to keep the Bengals’ offense off the field.
Still, I had Cooper ranked as a top-20 play this week entering the weekend. The thought is that his team-high seven targets last week was a positive sign, and he offers some per-target upside, considering he had a 30-yard catch in both games against Pittsburgh last season.
Of course, that is assuming he plays. A groin injury landed him on the final injury report of the week and he’s proven to be fragile in the past. The concern of a DNP combined with the time of this kickoff has Cooper currently ranked as my WR31.
Pro tip: add Donovan Peoples-Jones if you can to give yourself MNF insurance, thus maximizing the amount of time you can wait this injury out.
Donovan Peoples-Jones and Elijah Moore: While I expect Cooper to be fine in the short term while Watson works his way into form, these secondary receivers need to be on fantasy benches until we see a reason to start them.
Peoples-Jones led Cleveland receivers in snaps (66) and routes (28) in the Week 1 win, but it was little more than a well-paid cardio session for the burner, as he saw just two targets. He wasn’t exactly a focal point against the Steelers last season (12.1% target share), pointing to more risk than reward in this spot.
Moore led the Browns in receiving last week with 43 yards and was targeted on 21.4% of his routes – more than triple the rate of Peoples-Jones. He also was responsible for Cleveland’s only gain of more than 20 yards, which is something I didn’t work into his profile. If he offers some per-target upside, I could see him breaking into my top 30 receivers within the next month. For right now, though, he sits at WR37 and carries risk until we see Watson bounce back.
Diontae Johnson: Johnson came up gimpy with a hamstring injury in the third quarter of the season opener, resulting in an underwhelming finishing line of three catches on six targets for 48 yards. News broke on Tuesday that the injury is a little more serious than feared and that the veteran will miss “a few weeks.” It is worth noting that the Steelers have their bye in Week 6.
George Pickens: The industry pegged Pickens as a rising star this preseason, and this author is very much included in amplifying that hype. Week 1 didn’t exactly go according to plan. Against San Francisco, the super sophomore failed to have a 10-yard catch in a game in which Pickett threw the ball 46 times. Buy the dip. Now.
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He was that close to a big play that makes the fantasy day look very different, and a highlight like that reinforces exactly what we liked about Pickens this summer. His playmaking talent pops off the screen at you, and this offense wants to press the issue down the field. We saw it last season, and we saw it this preseason – relax people.
Pickens had a 30+ yard catch in both games against the Browns last season, and he offers the same upside in this matchup that we identified him as having in August. Johnson saw 28.6% of the targets in Week 1 before leaving with the hamstring injury, and many of those opportunities will likely go Pickens’ way moving forward. You can feel good about flexing Pickens this week, and maybe he’ll prove to be a matchup winner as your final player goes!
Allen Robinson II: Robinson was the lone bright spot in the Week 1 destruction at the hands of the 49ers, leading the team in both targets (eight) and receiving yards (64). I don’t think Pickett is going to throw 46 times on any consistent basis, and not all defenses are going to be as good a taking away what you want to do as the Niners, so be careful here.
That said, with Johnson sidelined and Pickens as the elite downfield option, Robinson’s big slot role could return more production over the next month than most expect. He’s not yet on my Flex radar, but another high-volume week, and he’ll be nearing it.
David Njoku: It was an ugly Week 1 showing from Watson, and Njoku suffered with only two catches on three targets for 24 yards. I still think Njoku can carve out a viable role in annual leagues, but I’ll admit that there’s a clear path for him to fall out of the weekly starter tier if Moore and Chubb consistently account for 37.9% of targets as they did in the Week 1 upset win over the Bengals.
Njoku caught 13 of 15 targets against the Steelers last season and scored in both games. He’s a starter, albeit one on thin ice, for me this weekend.
Pat Freiermuth: I’m holding tight on my Steeler stock across the board. Without the carnage at the TE position that we saw heading into Week 1, Freiermuth is on the outside looking in at my top 10. Yes, he scored last week on his only reception, and that could very well happen again. Fine.
Any tight end could score. Freiermuth had more targets than yards in Week 1, and with him posting only a 10% target share against the Browns last season, my expectations are low in this divisional battle.
Who Should You Start in Week 2?
Should You Start Pat Freiermuth or David Njoku?
I have Njoku ranked a handful of spots ahead of Freiermuth in this matchup, with the thought being that his volume is more stable. Freiermuth scored in the season opener, but otherwise, he found earning targets a struggle. That’s not going to get easier with Diontae Johnson sidelined.
Should You Start Elijah Moore or Christian Kirk?
Neither has much of a path to being the WR1 on their offense, but Moore is currently the WR2 on his team, not a role Kirk can claim. Do I love the Jaguars’ pass attack? I do, but much like the TE question above, I’ll take the locked-in targets when setting my Week 2 lineup.
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