Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0, 0-0 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (0-0, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: Steelers 21, Bills 27.5
Spread/Total Movements: 6.5 to 7 to 6.5, 50 to 48.5
Weather: 75 degrees, 10-15 mph, 25% chance of rain
Steelers Injuries to Watch: DE Stephon Tuitt (knee, IR), RB Anthony McFarland (unknown, IR)
Bills Injuries to Watch: DT Star Lotulelei (calf, out), WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot, questionable)
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
The Steelers were one of five teams to finish with double-digit ATS covers.
Pittsburgh opened 2020 with 11 straight wins overall (8-3 ATS) before ending 1-5 (2-4 ATS) in its final six games.
The Steelers played over the total in four straight games to end the season.
Pittsburgh is 12-3-1 ATS as an underdog the last three seasons.
Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup last season off of his elbow reconstruction surgery in the fall of 2019. Big Ben’s arm strength completely disappeared and he threw the ball at Drew Brees’ levels with an aDOT of just 6.9 yards and he averaged a career-low 6.3 YPA. Roethlisberger still finished as the QB13 with 17.8 FPG based on pure volume passes as he averaged 40.5 attempts per game. Big Ben posted 187/2 passing with two INTs for 15.48 FPG in a Week 14 matchup against the Bills last season.
Diontae Johnson finished as the WR21 with 14.8 FPG in 15 games despite leaving early in two games. He averaged 6.7 receptions, 71.2 receiving yards, and 10.8 targets per game if you toss out the two contests he left early in, and his numbers could’ve been much better if he didn’t have a league-leading 14 drops last season. Tre’Davious White and company limited him to 4/40 receiving on seven targets last season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster ended last season as the WR23 with 17.7 FPG. JuJu ran 84.9% of his routes from the slot and he averaged a horrific 8.6 YPR with an aDOT of 5.5 yards with Big Ben constantly throwing short — he averaged 13.7 YPR in his first three seasons. JuJu has scored 7+ TDs in each of his first three seasons with Big Ben as his primary quarterback. He posted 6/55/1 receiving in this matchup last season.
Chase Claypool became the first rookie in the post-merger era to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games. He ended his rookie season as the WR34 with 13.5 FPG despite the Steelers easing him into the lineup — he played on just 63% of the snaps and he ran 205 fewer routes than JuJu (642 to 437). The Bills stifled him last season with just 3/15 receiving on six targets.
Eric Ebron ranked as the TE12 with 9.5 FPG while playing 74% of the snaps in his first season with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers surprised many when they selected Pat Freiermuth in the second round. Freiermuth caught two touchdowns in Big Ben’s only preseason game and he could force Ebron off the field more this season since he’s already the better blocker. Ebron managed just 2/30 receiving on five targets in this matchup last season.
The Steelers drafted Najee Harris in the first round to try to fix their anemic rushing attack from 2021. He became Alabama’s featured back in 2019-20 when he averaged 103.5 rushing yards per game and 5.8 YPC while scoring 39 rushing TDs. Harris also showed some serious receiving skills with 70/729/11 receiving in 26 games the last two seasons, and he saw six targets on just 20 routes during the preseason. The Bills gave up the 12th-most FPG (24.3) to RBs last season.
Brolley’s Bills Stats and Trends
The Bills and Dolphins finished with league-best 11-5 ATS records last season.
The Bills covered nine of their last 11 games last season, and they went 5-1 ATS in their last six games as a favorite.
Buffalo is 5-1 ATS in its last six home games.
The Bills were one of five teams to finish with 10+ overs last season and they went 13-5-1 toward overs (playoffs included).
Buffalo beat Pittsburgh 26-15 in Week 14 last season as two-point home favorites in a game totaled at 48.5 points.
Josh Allen is coming off a breakout season in which he finished second in the MVP race to Aaron Rodgers. He set single season franchise records for passing yards (4544), passing TDs (37), and completion percentage (69.2%) on his way to being the QB1 with 25.8 FPG. The Bills went from being a bottom-eight team in pass rate in Allen’s first two seasons to ranking 11th last season while attempting passes 61.7%. The Steelers limited Allen to 238/2 passing and 6/28 rushing for 19.3 FPG last season.
Stefon Diggs played a big role in Allen’s breakthrough campaign as he finished his first season in Buffalo as the overall WR3 with 20.5 FPG. Diggs’ 1535 receiving yards led the league, which cashed at a juicy +4000 odds. Diggs was the only wide receiver to reach double-digit FP in every game, and 2020 was the first time he’s played in all 16 games in six seasons. He won plenty of championships by averaging a sick 10.0/128.5/1.0 receiving per game during the fantasy playoffs in Weeks 13-16, including his 10/130/1 receiving against the Steelers in Week 14.
Cole Beasley posted career-highs in catches (82), receiving yards (967), and targets (107) in just 15 games on his way to finishing as the WR31 last year with 13.8 FPG. Beasley continued to do just about all of his damage out of the slot, pacing the league with 948 receiving yards when lined up in the slot, which was 114 more yards than the next closest receiver, CeeDee Lamb. Beasley managed just 5/41 receiving on 10 targets against the Steelers last season.
Emmanuel Sanders is still playing at a relatively high level despite his advanced playing age (34) and despite tearing his Achilles tendon in 2018. He finished as the WR44 with 11.8 FPG while playing 60% of the snaps in 14 games with the Saints. He’ll step into John Brown’s role from last season, who produced 17+ FP in four of his seven full games.
Gabriel Davis will have to contend with a new veteran (Sanders) for playing time this season. He posted a solid 35/599/7 receiving (17.1 YPR) on 62 targets while playing 72.7% of the snaps as a rookie. He averaged 2.9/40.9 receiving per game with three TDs on 5.4 targets per game in seven contests without Brown last season compared to just 1.7/34.8 receiving with four TDs on 2.7 targets in nine games with Brown. Gabriel posted 3/19/1 receiving on eight targets against the Steelers last season.
Dawson Knox’s per game averages stayed stagnant in his second season (2.0/24.0 receiving on 3.7 targets), which was a major disappointment since Allen and the Bills’ passing game went to the moon from 2019 to 2020. He’s caught just 55.3% of his targets through two seasons (52/94) and a whopping 14 of his misconnections have come via drops (15.2% drop rate). Knox posted 4/34 receiving on seven targets against the Steelers last season.
Devin Singletary appears to be slightly ahead of Zack Moss entering the season after a strong August, but OC Brian Daboll figures to use a hot-hand approach with this backfield. Singletary posted 142/725/1 scrimmage and Moss had 126/576/5 scrimmage in their 13 games together last season, and the Bills added Matt Breida to this backfield this off-season. Buffalo’s RBs combined for 20/75 rushing against the Steelers with Singletary just a two-yard catch last season.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Bills (2020 Season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.9 (T-10th)
Plays per game: 65.0 (11th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 63.8% (2nd) | Run: 36.2% (31st)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 58.2% (3rd) | Run: 41.8% (30th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 70.1% (5th) | Run: 29.9% (28th)
Steelers (2020 Season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.6 (T-6th)
Plays per game: 66.4 (6th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 65.9% (1st) | Run: 34.1% (32nd)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 59% (2nd) | Run: 41% (31st)
When the team is behind — Pass: 71.6% (2nd) | Run: 28.4% (31st)
The big question over the course of the 2021 season for the Steelers is just how much they change their stripes on offense. The Steelers moved on from Randy Fichtner and promoted Matt Canada to OC after the offense completely collapsed late in the year. Obviously, there will be a point of emphasis to run the ball more with Najee Harris, perhaps put Ben Roethlisberger under center more, and use more pla -action. The big problem for Pittsburgh’s gameplan in the opener at least is that the Steelers will have to keep their foot on the gas to keep up with Josh Allen and the Bills high-scoring attack. We should expect an extremely pass-heavy gameplan from the Bills. Yes, the Steelers defense is among the best in the league. But so is their run defense. The Bills don’t care much for running the ball anyway and are content to let Allen drop back and throw it 70% of the time if they need to, regardless of who they are playing. In fact, in their Week 14 meeting late last year, Allen dropped back to pass 71% of the time in the first three quarters against the Steelers before the Bills slowed down in the 4th quarter and ran the ball to sit on the lead. This game features two teams that were top-10 in pace last season and could end up being a high-volume passing affair if it plays out like Vegas expects and Buffalo holds a lead all day long.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Fear not about Buffalo WR Stefon Diggs’s matchup with Joe Haden and the Steelers — Diggs has had a wonderful history against teams that play coverages like the Steelers do. We only need to look back to Week 14 of last season, when he put up 29.1 FP on Pittsburgh to find a stellar example.
If training camp reports are to be believed, Chase Claypool gave every indication that he was clearly the most dominant player on the Steelers’ offense. That is not the type of information we should take lightly when Diontae Johnson is sharing the field. Make no mistake, unlike last season, Claypool will be the 1A or 1B option alongside Diontae in this attack for Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Claypool received the money looks, but Johnson was the clear target-hog, when healthy, last season. The rookie label Claypool previously shouldered has been trashed, and new OC Matt Canada comes in searching for immediate success from the playmakers that stand during preparation. One might think that Claypool’s profile as a more traditional “X” receiver could mean shadow treatment from top CB Tre’Davious White, but White didn’t often shadow last season.
As for Pittsburgh’s backfield, it’s a heck of a spot for Najee Harris. If the Bills were not the least impressive run defense last season, they were not far off from receiving that label. It was a defense that permitted the highest rushing first down rate at 30.2%. The overwhelming factor that padded their FPG allowance to RB numbers can be found in their offense scoring so many points as to revert opposing teams into up-tempo mode, mostly abandoning the run. And Buffalo, an analytically-thinking team, places much more of a premium on stopping the pass than the run.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Buffalo is one of those elite offensive teams that actually doesn’t have a whole lot of guys with Week 1 season-long appeal.
Obviously, with Buffalo sporting an implied team total of 27.5, QB Josh Allen is going to be in your lineup — you didn’t draft him to bench him, ever. Meanwhile, Wes outlined above why there’s no reason to be scared for Stefon Diggs… again, as if we were ever benching him in the first place.
What I’m looking to see for Buffalo is if another receiver emerges as a steady option. Last year, that was slot master Cole Beasley, who has been in the news for other reasons this off-season. While you might not view Week 1 as the prime time to put in a more floor-oriented slot WR, but Beasley has more upside than you might think — he finished four times as a top-12 weekly WR in 2020, including twice in the top five. He has an overall favorable matchup with slot CB Justin Layne. He’s defensible as a WR3. Elsewhere, I’ll be watching from the sidelines to see how outside WRs Gabriel Davis and Emmanuel Sanders work into the rotation. (Sanders is questionable with a foot injury, but is expected to play.)
Neither Buffalo RB Devin Singletary nor Zack Moss is on my Week 1 radar. Between the two of them, they had only one finish as a top-12 RB last year, and nine in the top-24. In fact, the best game by a Bill RB all year was by Antonio Williams.
As for Pittsburgh, I’m viewing Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson as strong #2 WRs in a game in which the Steelers are expected to play from behind, while JuJu Smith-Schuster has the best matchup of the group in the slot against Taron Johnson. That said, I have JuJu as a WR3/4 because I expect Big Ben to filter most of his targets to the perimeter in this new offense.
As for Ben, you likely didn’t draft him to be your starting QB, and while Pittsburgh is a road underdog in this one, I’d prefer to wait for a better matchup to throw him into a lineup. I’ll get my exposure to the Pittsburgh passing game with the receivers.
In the backfield, I’m firing up Najee Harris as a borderline RB1. The Steelers drafted him to use him. Bottom line. Moreover, Bill DT Star Lotulelei is dealing with a calf injury.
One thing I’ll be watching out for: how does Pittsburgh rotate TEs Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth? We’ve heard through the grapevine that Pittsburgh loves Freiermuth. The time has already passed to add the rookie to your dynasty teams, but there’s an outside shot you’ll be using him in season-long formats this year, as well. Ebron does still have some juice left, though — he ranked as the TE12 with 9.5 FPG while playing 74% of the snaps in his first season with Pittsburgh. I expect that snap share to come down.