Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Players To Target Include Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Diontae Johnson, and Others

Who are some of the fantasy-relevant players you should be looking to start in the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers matchup in Week 16?

The Cincinnati Bengals‘ outlook revolves around the fantasy football value of Tee Higgins sans Ja’Marr Chase, while the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ fantasy preview aims to identify the few options you can consider starting in this plus-matchup.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Spread: Bengals -2
  • Total: 37
  • Bengals implied points: 19.5
  • Steelers implied points: 17.5


Jake Browning: Everything is trending in the right direction for Browning in this conservative offense. He’s completed over 69% of his passes in all four of his starts, is averaging 317.7 passing yards over his past three games, and has thrown multiple TD passes in consecutive games.

With three straight top-eight finishes, that’s a helluva résumé. But then — Ja’Marr Chase separates his shoulder, and the house of cards stands to collapse.

The threat of Chase over the top, even in a low-octane offense, requires significant defensive attention and opens up everything else. It opens up what has been an elite screen game and puts Tee Higgins in the type of single coverage situation that he made the highlight-reel play in last week.

Browning has finishes of QB4, QB4, and QB8 this season. Add up those finishes, and you get QB16, a reasonable expectation for the rookie this week.

Running Backs

Joe Mixon: When we talk about a player peaking at the right time, this Mixon run is gearing up to be exactly what we’re talking about. That said, Chase’s injury could derail everything if this offense struggles to move the ball.

Mixon has scored four times in his past three games, finishing each of those weeks as a top-15 performer at the position per the Week 16 Cheat Sheet. He has returned fantasy-starter value in seven of eight games since the bye and has been held scoreless just once since mid-October.

Of course, that one game was the first meeting with these Steelers. That, however, was Browning’s debut and saw the Bengals hold the ball for under 23 minutes. Things have changed since then — in a massive way.

The Steelers have become a must-target run defense of late, and given Mixon’s form, there’s no way around ranking him as an RB1 in this spot.

After giving up north of 20 fantasy points to both Ezekiel Elliott and James Conner, Pittsburgh allowed the backup tandem of Trey Sermon/Tyler Goodson to run for 157 yards while filling in for Zack Moss.

Mixon has found paydirt at least once in seven of his past eight. And with Cincy’s offense employing a conservative game plan with Browning under center, Mixon’s role is nothing short of elite. He should continue to guide your fantasy team!

Chase Brown: We can agree that Brown’s splash-play potential jumps off the screen, but we can also agree that his usage isn’t enough to justify counting on him.

For the season, Brown has just one finish better than RB28. He has seen 7-9 carries in all three games this month, but he has been able to turn six targets into 108 yards and a touchdown over the past two weeks.

He is big-play reliant in an offense with limited upside behind a veteran RB. Roster Brown, but keep him on your bench as a late-season handcuff worth holding.

Najee Harris: For most of November, Harris was a viable option. But those days seem to be a thing of the past.

Harris has 62 yards on 24 carries over the past two weeks and has failed to clear three-foot receiving in three of his past five games.

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For me, Harris is a version of Gus Edwards. He projects to lead his team in rush attempts and will handle the goal-line work, but the per-carry upside is limited.

Harris is one spot ahead of Edwards for me thanks to a sizable edge in opposition, but neither is a must-start (RB30 and RB31 in my Week 16 rankings).

Jaylen Warren: The role in the passing game for Warren is stable (3+ catches in 11 games this season), but without a 20-yard gain or a touchdown in four straight games, his upside isn’t high enough to justify flexing him.

The talent is there, though the opportunity is not. Warren checks in a handful of spots behind Harris this week in a matchup that favors the run game more than the pass.

Wide Receivers

Ja’Marr Chase: All signs point to Cincinnati’s star sitting out at least this game with a separated shoulder, an injury that has the potential to end his regular season. We saw Chase catch 11 of 12 targets for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars to open the month, and we thought his value under Browning was going to be stable.

That hasn’t proven to be the case in the weeks since. Following that performance, Chase has turned seven targets into 93 yards and no touchdowns, seeing just 12.3% of the targets. Chase won’t be a WR1 next week for me should he return, though he will be ranked as a starter if he can return to the field.

It should go without saying that Chase is worth holding onto through this DNP.

Tee Higgins: The two touchdowns last week were great to see given that Higgins hadn’t scored since Week 2. His earning eight targets (more than he totaled in the two games prior with Browning under center) was also certainly a step in the direction.

With Chase sidelined, Higgins’ target count figures to be safe in this matchup against a floundering Steelers defense.

MORE: Can You Start Either Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd in Week 16?

You’re taking on a risk with Higgins, understanding that the range of outcomes is wide (three top-10 finishes alongside six weeks outside of the top 40), but in this spot with a clear path to a strong opportunity count, he’s a fine WR2 that I’m playing over other WR1s with question marks under center (Garrett Wilson and Davante Adams, for example).

Diontae Johnson: Every offseason, we nail a ton of player profiles and miss on a ton — it’s the nature of the business. We thought Johnson would offer a high floor due to volume with limited upside due to his lack of scoring equity. We were wrong.

He’s scored in three straight games, but Johnson has less than five catches in six games this season. His value, of late, has relied on his ability to find the end zone, and that’s a terrifying thought in an offense that hasn’t scored 20 points in a game in over a month.

I’m willing to play the middle game with DJ in Week 16. He’s been a WR2 in all three games during this scoring streak, a run of production that comes on the heels of three straight finishes outside of the top 45 at the position.

Johnson is my WR37 this week. He’s not someone I’m going out of my way to play in the fantasy playoffs against a defense that challenges down the field more than anything.

George Pickens: The idea that teams attack the Bengals’ secondary with deep passes should make Pickens an appealing Flex option, but nothing he has shown us on the field dictates we should be optimistic about him.

With less than 50 yards in consecutive games and under 60 in seven of his past eight, Pickens has seemingly checked out. The numbers suggest as much, and if they’re not enough to sell you, search “Pickens run blocking,” and you’ll understand that train of thought.

Pickens hasn’t scored since October and has failed to finish better than WR45 in seven of his past eight games. So, what motivation do I have to rank him anywhere near the Flex radar? He sits outside of my top 40 at the position, behind Johnson, and in the same tier as Joshua Palmer and Rashid Shaheed.

Tight Ends

Pat Freiermuth: Can we be done here? His roster percentage remains above what it should be, so I feel obligated to highlight the fact that he hasn’t reached 30 yards once since his career day (nine catches for 120 yards against the Bengals).

MORE: PFN’s FREE NFL Playoff Predictor

Did you know that the big game in Cincinnati is Freiermuth’s only game, with more than 41 yards since Christmas Eve?

There are going to be fantasy teams forced to bet on TEs that rely on scoring to make them worth starting, but considering that the Steelers haven’t reached 20 points since mid-November, is this an offense you want exposure to?

Should You Start Tee Higgins or Tyler Lockett?

Both receivers come with a wide range of outcomes, but we’ve yet to see much of a ceiling from Lockett, whereas Higgins gave us a snapshot of just what he is capable of last week.

While Lockett’s target count could be in some danger as Jaxon Smith-Nijgba continues to make plays, Higgins’ opportunity rate only figures to rise with Ja’Marr out for at least this week.

Should You Start Najee Harris or Derrick Henry?

Neither pounding back gives me much confidence, but Henry is the more proven option around the goal line and, until proven otherwise, has a clear touch edge in his backfield. Henry and Harris have both struggled with efficiency and consistency, so I’m siding with the player who has proven to hold more touchdown equity throughout this season, and that is Henry.

Looking to make a trade in your fantasy league? Having trouble deciding who to start and who to sit? Setting DFS lineups? Check out PFN’s Free Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer, Start/Sit Optimizer, and DFS Lineup Optimizer to help you make the right decision!

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