Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1, 5-7 ATS) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7, 6-6), 8:20 p.m., TNF
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
The Steelers are 13-5 in their last 18 games as road underdogs.
Pittsburgh is 4-1-1 in its last six Thursday games.
Najee Harris has averaged more than 3.5 YPC just once in his last seven games, but he at least got back to seeing the rock 25+ times last week after seeing 28 combined touches in Weeks 11-12 — he’s seen 25+ touches in six of his last eight games. The Vikings are giving up a solid 4.4 YPC and the eighth-most rushing yards per game (101.0) to RBs. Eli Mitchell and A.J. Dillon had a combined 11/79 receiving against them in Weeks 11-12.
Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t hit 18+ FP in each of his first eight games, but he’s done it twice in his last three games after stunning the Ravens in Week 13. He completed 21/31 passes for 236 yards (7.6 YPA) and two TDs for 19.3 FP. He’s now thrown for multiple TDs in three of his last four games after doing it once in his first seven contests this season. Jared Goff posted 296/3 passing in this matchup last week, which was his first 20+ FP performance since Week 2.
Diontae Johnson notched his first 30+ FP performance of the season with 8/105/2 receiving against Baltimore, and he nearly dropped a 40-burger but he dropped a walk-in 37-yard touchdown early in the first half. He’s now posted 11+ FP in each of his 11 games and he’s reached double-digit targets in nine of those contests. The Vikings are giving up 14.2 YPR and the second-most FPG (42.0) to WRs this season.
Chase Claypool played an eight-week low 63% snap share last week with his turf toe injury flaring up and landing him on the injury report this week. James Washington (perimeter) and Ray-Ray McCloud (slot) would get more run if Claypool is out or limited this week. Claypool had posted 80+ yards and 8+ targets in consecutive games in Weeks 11-12 before managing just 2/52 receiving on three targets while playing through his issue last week. Josh Reynolds had 4/69 against the Vikings last week.
Pat Freiermuth was able to play last week after landing in the concussion protocol, but he had his six-game run with 4+ catches snapped with 3/26/1 receiving. He did score on a two-point conversion try to avoid his worst showing since Week 5. The Vikings allowed both T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright to score touchdowns and to reach 10+ FP last week.
Brolley’s Vikings Stats and Trends
Minnesota is 1-9 ATS in its last 10 games as a favorite.
The Vikings are 4-1 toward overs in their last five games.
Alexander Mattison jumped right into a bellcow role with Dalvin Cook (shoulder) out of the lineup last week, playing 86% of the snaps and logging 25 touches against the Lions. He logged 22/90/1 rushing and 3/34 receiving, which gives him 21+ FP in his three spot starts for Cook. The Steelers have given up 20+ FP to three consecutive RBs (Freeman, Mixon, Ekeler).
Kirk Cousins posted another casual 340/2 passing last week, which gives him 21+ FP in seven of his 12 games. He’s also hit multiple TD passes nine times this year, but he won’t have his favorite red-zone target in Adam Thielen (ankle) this week. T.J. Watt jumped into the league lead with 16 sacks overall after taking down Lamar Jackson 3.5 times last week. The Steelers have allowed multiple TD passes just once in their last seven games
Justin Jefferson feasted with 11/182/1 receiving on 14 targets last week with Thielen leaving on the first drive of the game. He’s now posted a ridiculous 8+ catches and 140+ yards in three of his last four games. The Steelers are giving up 10th-most FPG (36.2) to WRs and Tee Higgins went for 6/114/1 receiving in this matchup two weeks ago.
K.J. Osborn failed to register more than three FP in five straight contests in Weeks 8-12 but that changed in Week 13 with Thielen leaving in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Osborn was elevated into the #2 WR role behind Jefferson, and he stepped up with 4/47/1 receiving on seven targets (17% share) against the Lions. Sammy Watkins posted 4/39/1 receiving in this matchup last week.
Tyler Conklin saw just six targets in Weeks 11-12 but he’s back on the fantasy radar with Thielen out this week. Conklin finished with 7/56 receiving on a season-high nine targets (22% share) in Minnesota’s loss to the Lions. Pittsburgh limited Mark Andrews to 4/50 receiving on nine targets last week, and they’re giving up the ninth-fewest FPG (9.8) to the position.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.3 (4th)
Plays per game: 66.9 (6th)
Pass: 62.0% (14th) | Run: 38.0% (19th)
Pace: 27.6 (15th)
Plays per game: 65.4 (10th)
Pass: 59.2% (21st) | Run: 40.8% (10th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Steelers-Vikings has massive playoff implications in both the NFC and AFC Wild Card hunts. Both teams are holding onto slim postseason hopes to begin with and a loss here will crater either Minnesota or Pittsburgh’s Wild Card chances to under-10%. The Steelers in particular have a very tough road to making it with all of their remaining games coming against AFC foes with .500 or better records (vs. Titans / Chiefs / Browns / Ravens in Weeks 14-18).
Beyond this potentially being a season-deciding game for both sides, this is a really fun game for fantasy/betting. This is the second-fastest game of Week 14 in adjusted combined pace and the third-highest volume matchup in adjusted plays per game, which makes the over/under (43.5 as of Wednesday afternoon) look a bit low in my view.
The Steelers are playing a lot faster and running way more plays per game because their rushing attack has devolved back into its 2020 form. Najee Harris has been fine, but their offensive line is second-from-last in generating before contact yards over the last eight weeks. As a result, the Steelers are throwing it way more than they want and rank eighth in pass plays per game (40.6) over the last two months.
Meanwhile, the Vikings last five games have all been higher scoring with five-straight hitting 47 or more points and 4-of-5 going over 55 total points. It obviously hasn’t resulted in enough wins, but the Vikings are constantly finding ways to put points on the board after a mid-season lull – they’ve scored 26+ in five-straight. Predicting the Vikings has been hard all year, but this game sets up as another high scoring affair.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Patrick Peterson will return from the COVID list to cover the right side of the defense (left side of the offense) on greater than 90% of his reps. That’s a significant number since, while Steeler OC Matt Canada does like to shift Diontae Johnson around, Diontae clearly prefers working from the left side of the field. Peterson has played some decent ball for Minnesota this season. Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander have been the massive coverage liabilities. Among 79 qualified outside corners, Peterson is permitting 1.08 YPCS (38th-fewest), 0.23 FP/CS (31st), 0.14 AY/CS (33rd), and 109.4 TPR (20th-highest).
No, Adam Thielen… yes, Justin Jefferson. He works all across the formation, so he’ll see coverage from both Ahkello Witherspoon and Cameron Sutton. Sutton has been better, but neither should present an issue for JJ.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Vikings’ futility is incredible at this point. Just check out this stat.
The #Vikings have now led every single game this year by at least 6 points, including today.— Joe Dolan (@FG_Dolan) December 5, 2021
They are now 5-7 straight up. And just lost to the previously winless Lions.
I don’t have access to the NFL research department’s juicy database, but I can’t imagine that has happened many times in the past. A team that has led by a touchdown in every game through 12 games is below .500. This was from last week, and with slight adjustments to the criteria, you can see why I’m skeptical of that.
The Vikings are the 22nd team in history to have a 7+ point lead in each of their first 11 games of a season. None of the previous 21 were below .500 at that point.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 1, 2021
I thought this was a fantastic breakdown of the Vikings’ struggles — and perhaps those of QB Kirk Cousins and the perception of him — by beat writer Matthew Coller.
Noticed something kind of crazy yesterday.. the top 10 QBs in terms of QB rating win 65-75% of their games every year. But the Vikings haven’t won at that rate with a top rated QB… I tried to figure out what’s happening here (open for everyone) https://t.co/5h5wlCMnSA— Matthew Coller (@MatthewColler) December 7, 2021
Coller seems to have dug up a Sam Bradford-like stat on Cousins — he throws short of the sticks!
“The Vikings’ offense is 19th in third down conversion rate, yet Cousins has a 113.8 QB rating on third downs. Maybe we’re onto something here. On third-and-10 or more, Cousins has completed 36 of 44 passes and has a 123.5 QB rating but has only 13 first downs.
While the numbers look pristine, fewer first downs means more pressure on the defense. Here’s what I mean: The Vikings are 22nd in points allowed per drive and 25th in total points allowed. The Kansas City Chiefs, who are No. 1 in third down percentage, rank 20th in points allowed per drive. The other team just has fewer drives.”
I recommend you read the whole article, it’s fantastic.
This week, the Vikings will not have Adam Thielen because of what seems to be a high ankle sprain, and Dalvin Cook is questionable with his shoulder injury. Fortunately, neither is expected to be season-ending at this point.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Adam Thielen definitely will return at some point this season— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) December 7, 2021
With Thielen out, KJ Osborn is a worthy WR3 type fill in, and it raises the profile of TE Tyler Conklin for those who may need a streamer at the position. Osborn had 7 targets after Thielen went down last week, while Conklin had 9. QB Kirk Cousins can’t just gravitate toward Thielen and Justin Jefferson as he has for two seasons now. Keep an eye on the status of Steeler CB Joe Haden (foot), which would affect Jefferson — not like you’re benching him anyway.
Meanwhile, Cook has missed three games this year. Alexander Mattison has averaged 23.9 FPG in those three games this year. If extrapolated over the full season, that would tie him as the overall RB2 with Jonathan Taylor — behind only Derrick Henry (24.2). If you have Mattison, you’re basically hoping Cook misses. The problem, of course, is that if Cook is active, Mattison has been useless for fantasy. He averages just 4.6 FPG in his career when Cook plays — the equivalent of 25 rushing yards and a single 11-yard reception. Jeepers.
The Vikings could be getting three key defensive players back this week coming off their embarrassing performance against the Lions. CB Patrick Peterson (COVID) has been activated, a big help against Diontae Johnson, while LB Anthony Barr (hamstring) is adamant he will play this week to help against Najee Harris and this run game. LB Eric Kendricks (biceps) looks primed to return as well.
For Pittsburgh, which is virtually the same team for fantasy every week, it’s noteworthy that WR Chase Claypool (toe) has been dealing with an injury for weeks, and his snap share fell to 63% in Week 13, after being at 98% in Week 12. On a short week, the Steelers are going to have to manage him, but it’s not exactly heartwarming from a fantasy perspective that the Steelers cut his snaps so significantly that he played fewer than Ray-Ray McCloud.