Kickoff: Sunday, September 26th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Betting Odds: PIT -3.5, 43.5 Total on Oddshark
Joe Burrow (Sit)
Week 2 was a game to forget for Joe Burrow. Throwing 3 interceptions in 3 straight passes capped a difficult day for the young QB, scoring only 10 fantasy points against a sturdy Bears defense. It was a reality check for many who roster him. While he clearly possesses plenty of talent, Burrow still has a long way to go to reach his full potential and there are going to be plenty of rough weeks until he gets there. Considering the Pittsburgh defense has only given up a total of 3 TDs to QBs in their first 2 games, Burrow’s up and down performance is still a pretty significant risk to start. One positive is that T.J. Watt suffered a minor groin injury and may not be fully fit this week, which would take a massive amount of pressure off Burrow.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB2), Samaje Perine (Sit)
After an explosive week 1, Joe Mixon was another Bengals player who was largely shut down in their defeat to the Chicago Bears. He still was given plenty of carries (20), but his YPC fell far below 4.0 and he saw essentially no involvement in the passing game. The good news is that Mixon is still clearly a workhorse back, being involved in 84% of all offensive snaps, and therefore will get plenty of volume each week. The bad news is that the Steelers are yet another bad matchup, giving up the 4th lowest points to RBs and being ranked by PFF as the best rushing defense in the NFL going into week 3. You should always start your studs but it is worth tempering expectations yet again for Mixon, it may not be RB1 numbers yet again this week.
Backup Samaje Perine only participated in 3 offensive snaps last week, he will only be valuable in fantasy if Mixon goes down with an injury during the season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ja’Marr Chase (Start, WR2), Tee Higgins (Start, WR2), Tyler Boyd (Start, FLEX), C.J. Uzomah (Sit)
The further we move into the season, the more difficult it is to judge the Bengals wide receiver group for fantasy. Ja’Marr Chase seemed to be the clear WR1 on the offense in week 1 but only saw 4 targets against the Bears which is a warning sign in a contested offense. However, in terms of fantasy, Chase’s performance was saved by a TD grab that pushed him to 13.4 points for the week. If the rookie can keep finding the endzone he can pull himself all the way up to being a WR1 in fantasy but there may be concerns if those extra points stop coming in. However, right now, he is still the top option as part of the Bengals offense and has a healthy chance to revert back to being the number one option in the offense against the Steelers.
As Chase had a quieter week against the Bears, it was Tee Higgins that found his way into the spotlight. The second-year player played in almost every snap and converted 10 targets into 6 catches, 60 yards and a TD. The good news for both Higgins and Chase owners is that week 2 showed that both can still manage to put up decent numbers on a rough day overall. Higgins probably has the higher floor of the two, and you can have confidence in starting him when looking back at last season and his participation in weeks 1 and 2. He is currently day-to-day with a shoulder injury picked up against the Bears, but looks likely to play against the Steelers.
Slot receiver Tyler Boyd is another who worked back into greater participation in week 2, catching 7 passes for 73 yards against the Bears. He is another with a relatively high floor in PPR but the redzone focus on Chase and Higgins really hampers his potential for a high number of points. Fellow slot receiver Hunter Renfrow put up a stat line of 5 catches for 57 yards against the Steelers offense (10.7 points), and that is where I would largely expect Boyd to find himself this week.
The Bengals do not have a fantasy-viable tight end on the roster. C.J. Uzomah has had the largest involvement in the offense yet has not had more than 2 targets in each of the first 2 weeks.
Ben Roethlisberger (Sit)
39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger is not the quarterback he once was. The years of scoring 18 or 19 fantasy points per game have gone and owners need to accept the new reality. Big Ben has put up just 2 TDs in his first 2 games and now is dealing with a troubling pectoral issue that might affect his game even more than old age (by NFL standards) has done so far. Add to that a struggling offensive line and a Bengals defense that averages 3 sacks per game and there are a lot of warning signs going into week 3. The veteran even ranted to the media about the struggling offense after their loss against the Raiders, which is not a good sign considering only 2 games have been played. Roethlisberger might get his season back on track at some point soon, but the Bengals defense will not be as easy an opportunity as many may think to do so.
Najee Harris (Start, RB2), Benny Snell Jr. (Sit)
The Steelers ground game has yet to really get going so far this season, likely heavily attributed to their struggling offensive line. First-round rookie Najee Harris is failing to find any significant production carrying the ball so far, only picking up 83 yards total despite playing almost every offensive snap in the first two weeks. The bright spark for week 2 was that Harris got significantly more involved in the passing game, bringing in 5 catches for 43 yards and a TD. With his prevalence in the offense, it seems like an uptick in his points scored is inevitable, especially if he keeps being a feature of the passing game, but a lot will depend on if the Steelers offensive line can improve throughout the season. If anyone can get the offense going it should be him and, while it is a small risk starting him, there’s a decent potential that Harris could have his breakout game this week against the Bengals.
With the level that Harris has been seen in the offense so far, backup Benny Snell has received extremely minimal work and that does not look like that will change any time soon. Over two attempts this season, Snell has just 1 yard.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Diontae Johnson (Start, WR2), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Start, WR3), Chase Claypool (Start, FLEX), Pat Freiermuth (Sit), Eric Ebron (Sit)
Like the Bengals, the Steelers also have a pretty wide selection of options at wide receiver. Third-year starter Diontae Johnson has been the player with the best production so far, finishing with over 100 yards receiving in a loss against the Raiders. With 22 targets already this year, there are positive signs that Johnson will see an increase in both his catches and yards in 2021 if he can stay healthy throughout the season. Unless it looks like Big Ben has gotten back some of the form that he has lost in recent years his ceiling will always be a little low, but he should be a reliable starter on your fantasy team from week to week.
Despite his high targets, it is not Johnson but JuJu Smith-Schuster that has played in the most offensive snaps as a WR for the Steelers this year. He is no longer the same kind of star that we saw in the first couple years of his career, but Smith-Schuster should always be a decent option as he will almost always catch a healthy number of passes and has a knack for finding the endzone. He has scored 7 or more touchdowns in 3 of the last 4 years and should get an opportunity to increase his numbers in 2021 soon.
So far, Chase Claypool has been the slowest starting of the 3 key receivers in 2021. While he had a breakout season in his rookie year, Claypool has yet to have any of the huge games that put him on the map in 2020, and his target to catch conversion has been poor. The second-year player is now looking increasingly like a big-play specialist for the offense which limits his potential to some extent in fantasy, especially in PPR leagues. It is obvious that the talent is there for Claypool, and there is potential he could pop up for a big game at any time, but he may not live up to some of the sky-high expectations expected of him before the season started. In a struggling offense, he is the one that takes the largest brunt of the fantasy implications.
Rookie Pat Freiermuth seems to have quickly taken over the mantle from veteran Eric Ebron but the Steelers are yet to show that either can be trustworthy fantasy starters. Frieiermuth seems the more likely of the two, catching all 5 of his targets this season for 60 yards total and playing in over half of all offensive snaps in both games this season. Rookie TEs never get off to a quick start but there are positive signs about his future, even if he should not be seen on a starting lineup in fantasy just yet. Ebron in fantasy, on the other hand, is on a much more worrying trend. The rookie has limited his playing time to under 50% of snaps and Ebron has only caught 1 pass for 19 yards in his first 2 games. A decrease on his 558 yards in 2020 seems likely.
Statistics courtesy of Fantasy Data.
-Patrick McAndrew (@PMcAndrewNFL on Twitter)