If we were to look at this matchup in the vacuum of preseason, I think it would usher in a miasma of fireworks and excitement for this legendary rivalry.
However, the hatred these teams have for each other will forever run true, so we have that to look forward to, at least.
In all honesty, this game does have the potential to surprise in terms of real football, but I am not excited about this matchup for fantasy in the slightest. Which, of course, means everyone will score more points on TNF than they have the entire season.
Setting our gut feelings aside, let’s take a look at some data that we can quantify, starting with each teams’ defenses.
Steelers Fantasy Defense Against
The only thing that looks somewhat OK, is starting someone at the TE position for the Browns. But, we’re talking about Demetrius Harris, or an injured Ricky Seals-Jones. If you are super duper desperate, Harris or Seals-Jones if healthy is a deep sleeper play. Harris did post 11.3 in PPR Week 8 against New England, then dropped to 5.5 and 4.8 against Denver and Buffalo, both stout defenses against TEs.
You probably have to start OBJ. If you can avoid this without hurting your roster, I would try and do that. If you have to play him, I’m sorry. It’s been a bad year for Baker Mayfield. I do feel better about Jarvis Landry, hopefully adapting a TE type role. However, his success will depend on Mayfield getting rid of the ball quickly and running through his checkdowns with the Steelers D-Line threatening to squash him and wipe him out of existence.
Nick Chubb‘s outlook looks better for the Browns but expect Kareem Hunt to also be involved in the run and passing game. I’m still not 100% sold on Hunt being a starter for this week in fantasy, but it’s worth to keep an eye on his progress and usage.
Browns Starters: Chubb, OBJ, Landry, Harris or Seals-Jones (if desperate in deep leagues)
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Browns Fantasy Defense Against
I wish I had some better news on the Steelers’ side of the ball, in terms of confidence. Sorry, not going to happen. I do love starting the Steelers’ DST and that’s about it.
If you’re like me, you have to start JuJu Smith-Schuster. You don’t have to love it. I certainly don’t. He’ll take the majority of the coverage away from Diontae Johnson and James Washington, leaving them with greater volume and opportunity. Out of those two WRs, I have more confidence in Johnson than I have in Washington, just yet. Despite Washington and Mason Rudolph’s collegiate connection, it seems Johnson has been solidifying himself as the reliable pass catcher.
Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but I am not ready to quit TE Vance McDonald quite yet. I like his opportunity against the 19th worst defense vs. TE who has allowed 34 receptions on 48 targets for 444 yards and 5 TDs.
James Conner should be active for Thursday’s game but I still don’t hate starting Jaylen Samuels if you have to. I just want to be clear that he’s not an auto-start for me. He and Mason Rudolph failed to connect on multiple occasions last week and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Steelers Starters: Conner, Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Vance McDonald, DST and Washington (if desperate) and Samuels (if you have to).