By Tony DelSignore Jr.
Week 1 – September 7, 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Finally, real football is back. The draft, OTA’s and preseason are all behind us. The speculation ends and the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for the first time this Sunday. The 2014 season kicks off with a divisional game against the longtime rival Cleveland Browns.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has totally dominated the Browns over the course of his career. He is 17-1 against the Browns and has never lost to them in Pittsburgh. I don’t believe that will change in the home opener this Sunday, but fantasy stats are another issue.
In 2013, the Browns were very good against the pass, ranking 8th in the NFL, allowing only 221.1 yards per game. In the draft, they added talented cornerback Justin Gilbert and in free agency they added veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner. The Browns defense will likely be very stout against Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Last season, Ben threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 12 matchup. In their Week 17 tilt, Ben threw for only 179 yards and one touchdown to go along with two interceptions. On Sunday, the Steelers will likely use the no huddle to keep the Browns guessing.
Ben Roethlisberger Stat Projection – 23/35, 255 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
As far as who Ben will be throwing to on Sunday, Antonio Brown headlines all of the Steelers pass catchers. Last season AB had 15 receptions in two games against the vaunted Joe Haden. Brown racked up 179 yards and one touchdown in his two contests against Cleveland in 2013. Brown has looked fantastic throughout the off season program and I anticipate him to build on his 110 catch campaign.
Antonio Brown Stat Projection – 7 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD
Opposite Brown is second year receiver Markus Wheaton, who will make his first career start. Wheaton will be an impact player for the Steelers this season but I don’t see him making a significant impact against a very tough Browns secondary. With Lance Moore out this week, Justin Brown will likely work in the slot and see very limited targets from Roethlisberger.
Markus Wheaton Stat Projection – 5 receptions, 43 yards
Justin Brown Stat Projection – 2 receptions, 27 yards
Roethlisberger’s secondary target will very likely be a healthy Heath Miller. Miller is now fully recovered from an ACL injury and looks to be back to his consistent form. Miller will continue to be the security blanket for Roethlisberger and rack up receptions throughout the year. I can see Miller getting a red-zone touchdown this week.
Heath Miller Stat Projection – 4 receptions, 40 yards, 1 TD
Turning to the run game, the Steelers will look to involve all three of their talented backs against the Browns. Last season, Le’Veon Bell had 43 rushes and one touchdown in two contests against Cleveland in 2013, the most against any division opponent. Bell averaged 4.0 yards per carry with those 43 rushes and also added three receptions for 24 yards. Bell should see a healthy workload with LeGarrette Blount also seeing several drives. I also expect rookie Dri Archer to see about 4-5 touches in this game on offense. Look for Dri to make at least one splash play.
Le’Veon Bell Stat Projection – 17 rushes, 69 yards, 1 TD / 3 receptions, 22 yards
LeGarrette Blount Stat Projection – 8 rushes, 41 yards
Dri Archer Stat Projection – 3 rushes, 26 yards / 2 receptions, 29 yards
Lastly, we can’t forget about kicker Shaun Suisham. Suisham is nearly always involved in division matchups. Look for him to knock through a couple kicks this weekend.
Shaun Suisham Stat Projection – 2/2 Field Goals, 3/3 Extra Points
Final Score Prediction – Steelers 27, Browns 16
Tune in to @SteelersDepot all season long to find my fantasy football projections and analysis and feel free to shoot me your lineup questions each week at @TonyD_12 on Twitter.