The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ fantasy preview evaluates the value of their committee backfield, while the fantasy football outlook for the Cincinnati Bengals revolves around Ja’Marr Chase’s value after Joe Burrow’s injury.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
- Spread: Steelers -1
- Total: 34
- Steelers implied points: 17.5
- Bengals implied points: 16.5
An AFC North game featuring the Steelers facing a backup QB. Sound familiar? It should, we saw it last week. And by “saw,” I mean “we have a box score to prove it happened” because the game hardly popped up on “NFL RedZone” and generated very few noteworthy plays.
In that game, there were 71 passes thrown and 271 passing yards accumulated. You read that right. It feels almost impossible in this era of football, but it’s true, and while this week should be slightly better, I’m going out of my way to not be invested in either passing game.
Najee Harris: For reasons unknown, Harris led Jaylen Warren in snaps (33-26) and routes (12-11) last week against the Browns. He ran for just 35 yards (half of which came on a single run) on 12 carries and averaged 1.5 feet per target.
A suspect Bengals run defense as a part of a unit that allows the second-most red-zone trips per game could lead to Harris returning value this week, but he hasn’t been efficient enough to consistently continue to earn work.
I’m skeptical of his value for the stretch run, though one more usable week out of him is certainly possible.
Jaylen Warren: Can we get this man some volume? If you extend Warren’s November numbers in a clear misuse of mathematical skills … 2,086 scrimmage yards.
I’m not suggesting that he’d be an RB1 if given the lion’s share of the work in Pittsburgh, but I’d love to find out what that looks like. Even with the limited usage, he has a 20+ yard carry in three straight games and multiple receptions in nine of 10 games.
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I have him ranked ahead of Harris this week, but in a near-even split, neither should be viewed as anything more than a Flex option, even against the second-worst per-carry run defense in the league.
Joe Mixon: The Steelers get out-gained every week and rank 30th in time of possession. The Bengals are in damage-control mode with a backup quarterback. This looks, on paper, like a high-usage game for Mixon.
The veteran matched a season-high with five catches last week and has cleared 20 receiving yards in four of his past five games, giving him multiple paths to fantasy goodness this week.
The matchup with Pittsburgh isn’t great, but we did see Green Bay Packers RBs run for 105 yards on 22 carries two weeks ago in this spot. Mixon is the clear featured back in this offense and grades out as a viable RB2 for me this week.
Diontae Johnson: The past two weeks have been an abject disaster for Johnson managers (three catches on 12 targets for 33 yards), and while the firing of Matt Canada can only help this stagnant offense, we are in wait-and-see mode when it comes to playing any member of this passing game.
We might see an increase in route variation with the switch at OC, but with no teams on a bye this week, why jump the gun on an unknown? The Bengals held Zay Flowers to a 17.4% target share, even with Mark Andrews leaving early, a nod to their ability to lock down the short passing game.
I remain hopeful that Johnson can regain form in time for the fantasy playoffs, but at WR37, he’s not in my Week 12 lineup.
George Pickens: On our Tuesday podcast, Jacob Gibbs laid out a strong case for Pickens to be the primary beneficiary with the change in play-caller, and I tend to buy what he was selling.
Adding branches to his route tree could serve as a floor elevator, and that’s ultra-appealing in a spot where Pickens could access some of his ceilings, given that the Bengals own the highest opponent aDOT by 13.5% this season.
There’s no denying that investing in a Kenny Pickett-led offense is scary, but if I’m flexing one of their receivers, it’s Pickens as I chase his ceiling (three top-20 finishes, two of which were top 10).
Ja’Marr Chase: If you thought deciding whether or not to Flex a receiver under Pickett required mental gymnastics, just wait until you try to project Chase in this Jake Browning-led unit.
Now, Chase has scored in three of his past four games and is facing a defense with the fourth-highest opponent aDOT this season, so don’t count him out. The floor is low, and while the ceiling isn’t what it was with Burrow healthy, the talent at play here has the potential to be QB-proof.
Chase is my WR26 this week, a tick behind his average positional finish since the bye (WR23).
Tee Higgins: We’ll see if the mini-bye allows Higgins to return from this nagging hamstring injury. But even if he’s all systems go, I’m going to have a hard time getting Higgins into my top-35 wide receivers.
How much different is he from Diontae Johnson? In theory, Higgins offers more per-catch upside. But with one catch this season over 21 yards and a 12.9% dip in yards per catch, does he?
Playing with a backup QB is less than ideal. Being injured and thus not able to get on the same page is even worse.
Tyler Boyd: I wouldn’t cut Boyd until we have a feel for Browning’s target preferences, but there’s no way you’re plugging him in this week.
If Browning prefers the short passing game and Higgins’ hamstring continues to plague him, there’s a world in which Boyd holds a palatable PPR floor. That’s not a likely outcome, but it’s non-zero, which has me holding onto him through this week unless pressed to make a move for my Week 12 lineup.
Pat Freiermuth: After missing more than a month, Freiermuth returned last week and turned in his fourth single-digit receiving-yardage game of the season.
He ran a route on just 42.4% of Pickett’s dropbacks, but part of that low rate was due to Pittsburgh fearing Myles Garrett’s ability to wreck the game.
Freiermuth is going to need a touchdown to pay off playing him most weeks, so I’ll fade him in this low-scoring game (TE16). I’m keeping an eye on his usage because I do think there’s a role available for Freiermuth that allows him to push the top 12 at the position for the stretch run, but I’m not plugging him into any lineups this weekend.
Should You Start Ja’Marr Chase or Drake London?
The risk of Chase makes this a conversation, but I’m still betting on this offense scheming him into the game, a benefit of the doubt I can’t give the Atlanta Falcons. Chase has scored in three of his past four games and has six scores on his ledger over his past six games.
Drake London has cleared 55 receiving yards three times this season, and I’m not overly optimistic that changes this week.
Should You Start Rhamondre Stevenson or Jaylen Warren?
For the rest of the season, I prefer Warren, but this is a Week 12 discussion, and in this matchup, Rhamondre Stevenson’s advantage in the starting role is too much to ignore.
In this spot, a repeat of his 23 touches against the Indianapolis Colts is well within reach and would put him in a position to hold a better ceiling/floor combination than even the most optimistic Warren fan can project.
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