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Thursday Night Football Preview: Steelers at Browns

– Thursday Night Football Preview –

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Spread: Browns -2.5 | Over/Under 40.5

The NFL season is entering Week 11 and that means it’s time for another showdown on Thursday night football. The 5-4 Steelers are coming off an impressive home victory over the Los Angeles Rams to head to the Dawg Pound to take on the 3-6 Cleveland Browns. This is a matchup that the numbers say is very close. If we recall the last time these teams met in 2018, the Steelers won 33-18. Jarvis Landry was heavily targeted with 12 targets, but just eight receptions for 39 receiving yards. James Conner went for 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Baker Mayfield threw for 180 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Nick Chubb had 20 carries for 65 rushing yards. However, things are different this season with the Steelers boasting an elite defense that is allowing five yards per play (sixth-best on the season) and just 4.5 yards per play (fourth-best) over the past three weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns’ offense over their past three games as scored just 17 points per game.

Let’s take a closer look at Week 11’s Thursday Night’s Game.


Usually on Thursday night football is it pretty easy to select at least one quarterback in you can feel good about in fantasy football. Not this week. Mason Rudolph enters Thursday night averaging 13.3 fantasy points per game over his last three while Baker Mayfield enters averaging 15.4 fantasy points per game. In a DFS format fading both quarterbacks could definitely be an option. The Browns’ defense this season has allowed double-digit touchdowns to every single quarterback not named Luke Falk they have faced this season (rushing and passing). The Steelers’ defense has not allowed a quarterback to score more than 17 fantasy points since Week 2. Mayfield has played his two best games at home this season from a fantasy perspective. This is going to be Rudolph’s first road game since Week 2 where he scored 15.46 fantasy points.

In seasonal leagues, you will not want to start either of these quarterbacks, but if I had to start one I think it has to be Baker Mayfield. Pittsburgh’s defense has been elite over the past three weeks, but all those games were at home. They have only played three road games this season. In those games, they have allowed 8.4 yards per attempt (third-worst), generated one sack per game (worst), allowed 316 passing yards per game (second-worst), and allowed two passing touchdowns per game (fifth-worst). Outside Jared Goff’s abysmal performance in Week 10, the last three quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Philip Rivers) have all thrown at least two touchdowns versus the Steelers.

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Running Backs

We finally got to see the deployment of Kareem Hunt in the Browns’ offense and he saw himself in a pass-catching role. He tallied seven receptions on nine targets for 44-yards to go along with four carries for 30 rushing yards. The one thing that Hunt did not get work in was in the red zone. Inside the ten-yard line, Chubb had seven attempts and one target in the passing game. Unfortunately, he did not score, but his work near the goal line is encouraging for his fantasy production moving forward. Chubb averages 2.3 carries per game inside the ten-yard line and has just three touchdowns which are below expectations. Every other running back with at least 18 red zone carries has at least five touchdowns. The Steelers have not allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back over the past four weeks.

The Browns used both running backs frequently on Sunday. Chubb played 81% of snaps and Hunt played 54%. Interestingly enough via, the Steelers have allowed a 51% success rate and two rushing touchdowns on 49 attempts this season from 21 personnel and a 57% success rate versus 20 personnel. The Browns made a conscious effort to switch their scheme around Sunday and the offense was much better. Mayfield threw for multiple touchdowns for the first time this season.

As for the Steelers’ running backs, James Conner looks like he is going to play in this game. He will be an RB2 for Week 11. However, if he is limited it is going to be another combination of Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, and Tony Brooks-James. Samuels dominated work with 17 touches versus Edmunds (7) and Brooks-James (6). Samuels will be a borderline RB2 if Conner misses against the Browns with his workload. Cleveland gives up the ninth-most fantasy points to the RB position. If Conner is a full-go, still Samuels has FLEX appeal in PPR formats.

Wide Receivers

For the Steelers receivers, we have seen life over the past two weeks from James Washington. According to PFF, his yards/route run led all players over the past two weeks. The shower narrative with Rudolph is finally coming to fruition. His uptick in production definitely relates to the release of Donte Moncrief. Over the past two weeks, Washington still ranks third in snaps played behind Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Browns have been locking down receivers since getting their corners back especially from the outside. The two best performances from receivers versus the Browns were Cooper Kupp and Julian Edelman who both scored two touchdowns and had double-digit targets. Two of Smith-Schuster’s last games versus the Browns have seen him go over 100 yards. T.J. Carrie has taken over as the primary slot defensive back in Cleveland after the release of Jermaine Whitehead. He has allowed 1.79 yards per snap which is fourth-worst in the NFL. Carrie is by far the worst cornerback on the Browns. I think JuJu can be a top-24 option at the receiver position this week. The other guys are DFS dart-throws with things trending for Washington over Johnson.

On the side Cleveland, it has been Jarvis Landry with the production instead of Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past two weeks, Landry has 23 targets to Beckham’s 18 with them both getting just over 140 receiving yards. Beckham has fewer catches (10) versus Landry’s (15), and Landry has the two touchdown receptions. However, in terms of air yards, Beckham falls into the buy-low model. He ranks seventh in the NFL in air yards and has just one touchdown. It should be higher and against the Steelers, it could be time for positive regression. Over the past three weeks, the Steelers have allowed four receiving touchdowns to receivers. Rashard Higgins did catch a touchdown in Week 10, with Antonio Callaway inactive. He was the third-receiver in three-receiver sets, which the Browns are doing less of so he can be ignored aside from a punt play in DFS.

Tight Ends

Vance McDonaldA Thursday night football matchup with two dud tight ends in both Vance McDonald and Demetrius Harris. Harris played a significant amount of snaps due to the absence of Ricky Seals-Jones. He only ran 13 routes and had just two catches. The matchup is fine with the Pittsburgh Steelers allowing the ninth most fantasy points to the tight end position. The only startable option is McDonald who tied with Washington with the most targets in Week 10 (seven). Over the past three weeks, McDonald ranks seventh in targets at tight end (six per game) but he is averaging just 7.8 points per game. However, Cleveland gives up the 11th most fantasy points to the tight end position. Any tight end that has seen at least four targets versus the Browns has scored this season.

Defense/Special Teams

Both D/STs are definitely in play here. The Steelers have scored at least nine fantasy points in every single game since Week 2. Since Week 3, they have scored double-digit fantasy points in every single game. They should be in captain consideration for one-game slates in DFS. For the Browns DST, they have been lackluster, but behind Myles Garrett, they have been able to generate sacks and turnovers. Rudolph is a shaky starting quarterback who can turn the ball over.

I am slightly interested in the Browns kicker in this game with it projected to be low-scoring. Cleveland over the past three weeks has averaged 2.7 field goal attempts per game. Austin Seibert has made eight field goals over the past three weeks. The Steelers kicker Chris Boswell has also been good lately. He has scored the fourth-most fantasy points at the position over the past three weeks. Cleveland at home has allowed 2.2 field goal attempts per game at home this season.

Final Thoughts

This game will most likely not hit the over and projects to be more ugly than anything else. It’s going to be more of a struggle than a showcase which is why I like the defenses.

Final score prediction: 17-14 Browns over Steelers.

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