Fantasy football has become a billion dollar industry with millions of leagues worldwide and daily fantasy games at the touch of your finger. Many have made nice careers out of attempting to predict the future by telling you what a player will do. They use statistics, trends, history and even intuition to come up with best guesses. Now it’s my turn. I’m going to take my 20+ years of fantasy football participation to give you my best guess each week for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Week 3 Opponents – San Francisco 49ers
Location – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Record vs Opponent (Last 10 meetings) – 5-5 overall, 2-3 on the road
Last Meeting – 9/20/2015 Steelers 43 – 49ers 18
After week one, if you’re like me, you were probably thinking it can’t get much worse. Welp, I was wrong.
Lose Ben Roethlisberger for the season
Lose the home opener to move the record to 0-2
And now a trip out west to face a 49ers team that is 2-0. West, where the Steelers have won one of their last five games and that was with Michael Vick at quarterback. A loss in week three wouldn’t be the end of the world. Remember just last year, the Houston Texans started 0-3 before stringing together 9 straight wins. However, that doesn’t happen often so this is a game they really need to win.
San Francisco’s wins both came on the road after beating the Cincinnati Bengals 41 – 17 in week 2. In the early going, the Niners defense have averaged allowing 305.5 yards per game with 232.5 coming through the air and 73 coming via the ground while allowing 17 points per game.
Mason Rudolph will make his first career start. He came on in relief of Roethlisberger last week and played well. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception that wasn’t his fault. He showed good mobility as well scrambling for 7 yards to get a first down.
The Steelers were able to run more play action plays with Rudolph at the helm and it seemed to help the offense. They say a young quarterback’s best friend is a tight end and seemed to ring true with Vance McDonald pulling in 4 receptions and 2 touchdowns from the Rudolph.
The statistics I want to focus on are the QB’s stats when Roethlisberger hasn’t started. Over the last few years Landry Jones had a chance to start some games and we’ll look at the numbers from his last 4 starts. This may give us a better representation of what we can expect from the QB this week.
The completions, attempts and yardage are predictably a bit lower than what Roethlisberger averaged on the road.
Prediction – Rudolph looked comfortable when rushed into duty last week and should benefit from a full week of practice with the number one offense. Play action should help the receivers find some space to operate. I’d expect some shorter passes early to get him acclimated before taking some deeper shots.
Rudolph 23/34, 292 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
The running game has been virtually nonexistent in the first two games. James Conner has managed only 54 yards, Jaylen Samuels had 22 and in on his one carry Benny Snell had a 23 yard gain. 99 yards by the running backs in 2 games is unacceptable.
Through the air hasn’t been any better with a combined 9 receptions for 71 yards. If they Steelers are going to break the early season slump the running game is going to have to better. Doubling up what they are averaging per game on the ground is a reasonable request.
With Rudolph starting, lets again look at what the running back position has done while the backup quarterback is starting. These games are based on the last 5 started by someone other than Roethlisberger.
RB1 has included Le’Veon Bell (3 games), DeAngelo Williams and Stevan Ridley. RB2 has Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint for 2 games each. There was one game where Bell had all the touches.
Prediction – They have solid number when the backup is starting which is a good sign. The play action offense should help the running game as well.
Conner – 18 carries for 87 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions for 36 yards
Samuels – 4 carries for 14 yards, 2 receptions for 20 yards
Snell – 2 carries for 5 yards in short yardage duty
Chemistry will be the question with this group. Working with a new QB can be difficult at first. Luckily, Rudolph got quite a bit of playing time with all the receivers in the preseason and the receivers showed no real negative effects when he entered the game in the second half last week.
JuJu Smith-Schuster put up better numbers last week and I’d expect him to been the lead horse. The indication is that Diontae Johnson will be moved into the starting lineup this week and it’s good to see since he has earned more playing time over who he will be replacing. James Washington should be the biggest benefactor of the change at QB. The former collegiate teammates have an obvious connection that should be a boost for both.
Here are the numbers of the wide receivers during the games were Jones and Vick started.
Prediction – Really interested to see what the offense can do after how the team performed in the second half this week. Hopefully, the top three receivers can all step up this week.
Smith-Shuster – 6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 TD
Johnson – 4 receptions 46 yards
Washington – 4 receptions 62 yards, 1 TD
As noted above the TE is the young QB’s security blanket. Good for short middle of the field passes and check downs. McDonald had the two touchdowns last week and should be in for another solid week. Hopefully, he can use the last week and this week to springboard him toward what we all think he is possible of doing.
Prediction – Tight end stats with the backup QB have not been good. Can that trend by reversed?
McDonald – 4 receptions for 41 yards
Chris Boswell is off to a very good start 3 of 3 on field goals and 2 of 2 on extra points. And although it doesn’t matter for fantasy his kickoff have been in impressive putting two in the corners just outside the end zone last week. He seems to be in a good rhythm so far. San Francisco has given up one field goal in each of their first two games.
Boswell – 2 of 3 FG, 3 or 3 extra points
Final Score Prediction – Its week three and the Steelers have no wins. They are 6.5 point under dogs and on the road with a backup quarterback. Based on history this game will be a loss.
However, they need this game. Really need this game. To quote Rage Against The Machine, “It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?”
Steelers 27 – 49ers 19