Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1, 0-0 ATS) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4, 7-7), 4:25 p.m.
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
Pittsburgh is 5-1 ATS in its last six games against teams with a winning record.
The Steelers have yet to string together covers in consecutive games this season.
It’s difficult to be a volatile fantasy asset when you’re guaranteed 15+ opportunities every week, but that’s where Najee Harris is right now playing behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Harris has fallen below seven FP in two of his last four games after posting a miserable 12/18 rushing and 2/8 receiving on five targets in Pittsburgh’s victory over the Titans in Week 15. Najee is averaging just 3.6 YPC and 6.5 YPR, but he’s now up to 311 touches with an 85% snap share for the season. Najee can’t be taken out of fantasy lineups against the Chiefs this week, and he’s going to have to be involved in Pittsburgh’s passing attack with Pittsburgh entering as 10-point road underdogs. Harris has posted 20 or fewer receiving yards in four of his last five games, but at least the Chiefs are giving up the third-most receiving yards per game (58.0) to the position this season.
Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t hit 18+ FP in each of his first eight games, but he’s done it three times in his last five games. He flopped in an ugly victory against the Titans in Week 15, completing 16/25 passes for 148 scoreless yards (5.9 YPA) and he added a rare QB sneak touchdown for 11.9 FP. The Chiefs held Teddy Bridgewater (257/1 passing) and Derek Carr (263/1) in check before Justin Herbert accounted for three TDs last week.
Diontae Johnson failed to hit double-digit FP for the first time in 13 games this season, and he finished with fewer than double-digit targets last week for just the third time. He still caught all five of his targets for 38 yards and he added a 10-yard run for 9.8 FP, and he extended his streak with 5+ catches in nine straight games. The Chiefs are giving up the seventh-fewest receptions per game (11.7) to WRs this season.
Chase Claypool failed to catch a pass last week and his snap share has hovered around 60% of the snaps in the last three weeks. with the coaching staff pulling back on his playing time for his toe injury. He still has 80+ yards in three of his last five games and he’s finished with fewer than eight FP in his other two games in that span. The Chiefs held Mike Williams to 3/49 receiving on nine targets last week, and they’re giving up 12.5 YPR to WRs.
Pat Freiermuth left in the third quarter of Week 15 with a concussion, and his status for Pittsburgh’s Week 16 showdown with the Chiefs is certainly in doubt since this is his second concussion in three weeks. He previously landed in concussion protocol the week after Pittsburgh’s loss to the Bengals in Week 12, and he ended up playing against the Ravens in Week 13 after passing through the protocol. It would be reckless for Freiermuth to be back in the lineup this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s looking at a multi-game absence. It’s a shame since Muth has run off 11+ FP in six of his last eight full games.
Brolley’s Chiefs Stats and Trends
The Chiefs are riding a seven-game outright winning streak and they’ve covered in five straight contests.
Kansas City is 4-1 toward unders in its last five games.
Travis Kelce posted exactly 3/27 receiving in consecutive games in Weeks 13-14 before he erupted for 10/191/2 receiving on 13 targets against the Chargers last week. Unfortunately, he landed on the COVID list on Monday, which has him in doubt for this weekend. Rookie Noah Gray and Blake Bell would be the next players up at the position if he’s unable to play. The Steelers have allowed just two TDs to TEs this season, and they haven’t given up a touchdown to a tight end since Will Dissly scored in Week 6.
Tyreek Hill is also in doubt for this weekend after he landed on the COVID list this week. He exploded for his third-best game of the season, catching 12-of-13 targets for 148/1 receiving against the Chargers. Byron Pringle has been running as the #2 WR followed by Demarcus Robinson, Josh Gordon, and Mecole Hardman. There’s a chance Hardman could take on a bigger role as a deep threat to replace Hill’s deep speed after being demoted around mid-season. The Steelers are giving up the 16th-most FPG (34.8) to WRs this season, and they just stifled Tennessee’s undermanned receiving corps last week — Nick Westbrook-Ikhine led the Titans with 4/32 receiving.
Patrick Mahomes’ fortunes this week will clearly hinge on the statuses of Kelce and Hill, who take on the heavy lifting for this passing attack. He’s coming off a season-high 410 passing yards against the Chargers, and he turned in three TD passes and 31.6 FP in the victory. He’s averaged 8.7 YPA or better in the last two weeks after finishing at 7.0 YPA or worse in five of his previous six games in Weeks 7-13. Pittsburgh has allowed just one QB (Justin Herbert) to reach 20+ FP in their last 12 games.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be forced to take on a bigger role in this offense this week if Tyreek and/or Kelce miss against the Steelers. CEH saw just 11 touches last week despite seeing a 71% snap share, his highest rate since the season opener. He’s topped 14 carries just once this season, but the Chiefs could take a run-heavy approach given their situation and given Pittsburgh’s struggles stopping the run. The Titans outgained the Steelers by 166 yards on the ground last week, and Pittsburgh allowed 4.8 yards per carry (42/201 rushing) in its victory. The Steelers have allowed an individual back to post 15+ FP in six straight games.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 25.3 (2nd)
Plays per game: 63.9 (16th)
Pass: 63.6% (11th) | Run: 36.4% (22nd)
Pace: 27.7 (14th)
Plays per game: 65.9 (7th)
Pass: 62.8% (12th) | Run: 37.2% (21st)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Week 16 is filled with gross matchups and low totals, so Chiefs-Steelers is naturally near the top of a bad bunch of games. This game is the second-best of the week in combined pace and plays and we could end up seeing another high volume game from Ben Roethlisberger and this passing attack as large road underdogs. This is crazy: In the Steelers six losses, Big Ben has averaged a whopping 47 pass attempts per game and is at just 32.7 attempts per game in their wins. It may not be pretty, but the volume should be amazing for Diontae Johnson here.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs (and fantasy teams) are in limbo with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill potentially missing here. Still, for all of the hand-wringing of how this offense isn’t the same as it once was the Chiefs have still mustered a score on an impressive 47% of their possessions over the last eight weeks (fifth-best rate). I said this last week about the Chiefs and was wrong as Patrick Mahomes shoved 410 yards down the Chargers’ throat, but it would especially make sense for the Chiefs to come out and run it way more here if Kelce and/or Hill both can’t play.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
I’m going back to the well after Clyde Edwards-Helaire wasted an excellent opportunity against the Chargers. But I will hesitate to trust CEH again if he flops in this opportunity. What was even more frustrating about only managing nine FPs against LAC last week is that ran more than twice as many routes as Darrel Williams, and all of the RB targets. That said, the Chiefs could be without both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce this week. It’s an unprecedented situation for the Kansas City offense. Patrick Mahomes II has never started a game for the Chiefs without both Zeus and Cheetah.
Any possibility of CEH seeing an uptick in his workload is worthy of our attention. Especially against a Pittsburgh defense packaging 5.25 RZ touches/game (10th-most), 2.0 RZ touches/game (the most), and 34.5 FPG (the most). Kansas City puts one of the top-five run blocking O-lines on the field each week. It’s time for CEH to reward their efforts with results that will draw attention to their efforts. And I am willing to invest in him doing just that in an excellent matchup.
As always, the volume Diontae Johnson receives can potentially overcome any matchup. But the Chiefs have been far too good against the pass and Mike Hughes’s play has improved immensely during the second half of the season. And it could be Rashad Fenton that Diontae is forced to deal with if L’Jarius Sneed’s return kicks him back outside. Fenton has been a bona fide top-five perimeter corner this season. Sneed’s return does offer a decent matchup to James Washington, but it very could be Ray-Ray McCloud III that plays all of the snaps inside.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
There’s really nothing to say about Kansas City without knowing the status of their stars, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, who are both on the COVID-19 list. Their last chance to be activated is Saturday.
#Chiefs won’t get Harrison Butker back, but they are optimistic about getting some of the other nine players listed in the QT'd post.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) December 23, 2021
The key day for big-name activations is likely Saturday, Christmas Day. https://t.co/NRYfnynQNU
If both — or neither — can play, expect a heaping helping of RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The mostly likely WR to fill in for Hill — based on routes run — is Byron Pringle, though Mecole Hardman is the better stylistic fit. Just keep in mind that the Chiefs have effectively benched Hardman — he was fourth among their WRs in routes run last week.
If Kelce doesn’t play, the best stylistic fit is rookie TE Noah Gray. Good luck.
The Steelers’ top two fantasy options all season — WR Diontae Johnson and RB Najee Harris — ended a lot of dreams last week. Najee flat ruined a lot of good teams, but it wasn’t because of a lack of usage. Harris played on 100% of the snaps last week. Harris has been on the field for 98% of the Steelers snaps over the last three weeks. He isn’t coming off of the field, but he unfortunately has looked like a plodder behind a bad offensive line. Is the season wearing on him?
Najee Harris' workload and the #Steelers poor offensive line have pushed the first-round pick into the rookie wall, writes @Steelers_DB #HereWeGo https://t.co/U2CGKW8KHt— All Steelers (@si_steelers) December 23, 2021
Here’s Jake Tribbey from the DFS Early Look on Diontae:
“Diontae is coming off just a 5 target outing, his lowest of the season. But we can’t forget just how consistent he’s been otherwise. Prior to Week 15, Johnson had seen double-digit targets in an astounding 20 of his last 22 games with Ben Roethlisberger under center. Over this span, he averages 11.9 targets and 19.5 FPG.
This year, Johnson is 2nd (tie) in targets per game (10.4), 1st in XFP per game (22.0), 5th in air yards per game (115.4), 2nd in end zone targets per game (1.1), and 6th in deep targets per game (2.2). He has not only seen a notable improvement in target volume, but his role has dramatically changed, leading to a massive improvement in target quality. In comparison to last season, he’s seen a significant increase in air yards per game (up +50%), end zone targets per game (+81%), and deep targets per game (+71%).
And Johnson not only leads all players at all positions in XFP/G (22.0), but his 22.0 XFP/G ranks 2nd-most by any WR since at least 2008, just 0.2 XFP/G behind Calvin Johnson’s 204-target 2012 season.
Even including his abysmal Week 15, Johnson has still hit at least 20.5 XFP in 10 of 13 games this season (Cooper Kupp is the only other WR averaging over 20.5 XFP per game, another historically great mark, and he’s hit 20.5 XFP in just 7 of 13 games). Johnson has also seen double-digit targets and scored at least 15.0 fantasy points in 10 of 13 games.
Now, one of the most consistent WRs in fantasy draws Kansas City, in a game the Steelers will almost certainly need to throw as 10-point underdogs. So far this year, Johnson has averaged 19.9 FPG when Ben Roethlisberger attempts more than 40 passes (6 instances). That would rank 3rd-best among all slate-eligible WRs.”
Chase Claypool really played fewer snaps than Ray-Ray McCloud last week.— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 22, 2021
Gotta hold guys accountable! By the way, quick reminder on how 2021 has gone for Big Ben:
PFF passing grade: 34th among 43 QBs
Turnover-worthy plays: 43rd
Yards per attempt: 30th
Adjusted cmp rate: 28th
Yeah, the Chase Claypool thing might be real, following his boneheaded (but likely inconsequential) celebration a couple weeks ago. Here’s Graham from Start/Sit on a guy who’s really hard to trust right now:
“Claypool air-balled last week with just two targets and no catches and if we look under the hood, it’s because he’s continued to lose playing time as of late. Maybe it’s because of a toe injury that held him out in Week 10 or maybe it’s because of his mental mistakes and Mike Tomlin is sick of it, but Claypool has played on just 61% of the snaps over the last three weeks. This week, Claypool is up against a tough matchup against a Chiefs secondary that is limiting boundary receivers to the second-fewest fantasy points per game. Claypool rarely moves into the slot and lines up out wide on 80% of his snaps. He’s a completely boom-or-bust WR4 for the semifinals.”
Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem likely TE Pat Freiermuth will clear concussion protocol in time for Week 16.