Week 1 – September 10, 2015
Location: Foxboro, Massachusetts
Opponent: New England Patriots
Finally, regular season football is back. The draft, OTA’s and preseason are behind us. All of the questions that SteelerNation and the rest of the NFL have will be answered, starting this Thursday night in Foxboro. The Pittsburgh Steelers get the privilege, or maybe disadvantage depending on how you look at it, of opening the NFL season against the defending Champion, New England Patriots.
With Tom Brady’s suspension lifted, the Steelers defense is in for the tough task of slowing down a motivated Patriots offense. The Steelers have historically struggled against the Patriots (Brady is 7-2 against Pittsburgh), but as we know, that is why they play the games.
For fantasy purposes, the Steelers are a team that you want to target this season whether you play season long fantasy or daily fantasy sports. While the suspensions of Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant will hurt the team early in the year, Pittsburgh should have one of the best offensive attacks in the NFL.
The fantasy production starts with all world quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
For the Steelers to make the playoffs, much less have a chance to win the game on Thursday night, Roethlisberger will have to be excellent, even better than last season.
The maturation of Big Ben under offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been fun to watch. Last season, Ben led the league in passing yardage (tied with Drew Brees). This season, Ben may not pass for as many yards but I do think he has a great chance to set a career high in touchdown passes.
As for Thursday night, look for Roethlisberger to throw early and often with Le’Veon Bell suspended.
The pass defense in New England will look much different that you remember watching in Super Bowl 49. All-Pro Darrelle Revis as well as Brandon Browner left in free agency.
Last season, the Patriots surrendered 240 passing yards per game and 1.5 touchdowns. Both marks were middle of the pack. With the significant personnel losses in the New England secondary, Roethlisberger will be able to find creases in the passing game. With Revis and Browner, the Patriots were 24th last season in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Ben has a great matchup on paper in the opener.
The bigger concern is the Steelers offensive line being able to hold up against the Patriots pass rush without Maurkice Pouncey. The Patriots front seven is an impressive group, with Chandler Jones leading the pass rush.
If the offensive line can keep Ben clean for the most part, the Steelers offense should be able to move the ball and put up solid passing numbers. Let’s hope that Ben does not have to play in catch up mode all night, but that may be exactly what the game script dictates.
Ben Roethlisberger Stat Projection – 27/42, 375 yards, 3 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 Antonio smashed career highs in receptions (129), yards (1,698) and touchdowns (13). Brown is primed to come close to matching those numbers again in 2015. With Bell and Bryant out of the picture for parts of the first month, AB will be the 1A and 1B for Roethlisberger.
On Thursday night, Brown will not have to deal with either of the All-Pro cornerbacks that New England trotted out last season. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have absolutely no chance of slowing down Antonio. Last season, AB finished second in the league behind Demaryius Thomas with a touchdown and/or 100+ receiving yards in 75% of his games. Brown is the clear cut top fantasy receiver this week and you should feel very fortunate to have him on your roster in this spot. Brown very well could set career highs in both targets and receptions in this game.
Antonio Brown Stat Projection – 10 receptions, 155 yards, 1 TD
Opposite Brown is third year receiver Markus Wheaton, who will get his chance to quiet the naysayers and make a huge impact on the Steelers offense. With Martavis Bryant suspended, the weight will fall on Wheaton to take advantage of the 1-on-1 matchups he will see throughout the night.
Wheaton was in nearly the exact same situation at the start of the 2014 season but anyone who has tracked this team closely, can see the growth in Wheaton’s play this preseason. Last year, he could barely get on the same page as Roethlisberger. This year, he seems to be fully in sync. In fact, Big Ben called Markus the Steelers breakout player on offense.
With the amount of throwing the Steelers are going to need to do on Thursday night, I believe that Wheaton will see plenty of targets to fill up the stat sheet. New England surrendered 34.7 fantasy points per game last season. There will be plenty to go around, even with Brown dominating the targets. Look for Wheaton to have a really nice game.
Filling in for suspended Martavis Bryant will be journeyman Darrius Heyward-Bey. Last season, DHB contributed only 33 yards on 3 receptions. He won’t have much of an impact this season, but he should be able to see some favorable coverage in this matchup. He is not however, useful in any way for fantasy purposes.
Markus Wheaton Stat Projection – 6 receptions, 83 yards, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey Stat Projection – 4 receptions, 47 yards
Roethlisberger’s security blanket will very likely be the consistent veteran, Heath Miller. Last season, New England gave up 13.5 PPR points per game to opposing tight ends. Miller will be working the middle of the field and should have no issue finding soft spots against the Patriots linebackers. I can certainly see Miller getting a red-zone touchdown this week.
Heath Miller Stat Projection – 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD
Turning to the run game, the Steelers will look to involve veteran DeAngelo Williams with the absence of Le’Veon Bell. New England surrendered 19 standard fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, which was just below league average at 18th in the league. Williams looked very fresh in preseason and should be able to excel with a talented offense around him. Williams is a great fill in options for Le’Veon Bell fantasy owners as well as owners who are thin at running back.
As mentioned before, the New England front seven is tough, and Pouncey is sidelined, but the Steelers will give Williams plenty of touches to keep the Patriots defense honest. I also expect Dri Archer to see about 7-8 touches in this game on offense. Look for Dri to make a few big plays.
DeAngelo Williams Stat Projection – 17 rushes, 69 yards, 1 TD / 3 receptions, 22 yards
Dri Archer Stat Projection – 4 rushes, 26 yards / 3 receptions, 29 yards
Lastly, we can’t forget about new kicker Josh Scobee. Scobee will bring consistency and stability to the suddenly unstable kicker position in Pittsburgh. Scobee should be a solid fantasy start this week as the Steelers will need to score plenty to stay with New England.
Josh Scobee Stat Projection – 2/2 Field Goals, 4/4 Extra Points
Final Score Prediction – Steelers 34, Patriots 45
Sorry, SteelerNation, I hope I am wrong but I see the Patriots cruising to victory behind a motivated Tom Brady. The Steelers defense does not have the manpower to slow down Gronk and Edelman. We can cross our fingers, and hope for a miracle. Good luck in your fantasy matchups this week!
Tune in to @SteelersDepot all season long to find my fantasy projections and analysis and feel free to shoot me your lineup questions each week at @TonyD_12 on Twitter.