NFL Week 15 wraps up with a Monday Night Football contest between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers starting at 8:15 p.m. ET.
If you’re unfamiliar with the single-game NFL DFS format, it differs a bit on DraftKings and FanDuel. On DraftKings, you have one “captain” spot and five flexes. The captain will score 1.5x fantasy points, but he also costs 1.5x salary. That means if you want to roster Ben Roethlisberger as captain and take advantage of the scoring boost, you’ll have to pay $17,700 as opposed to $11,800.
FanDuel’s single-game format features one “MVP” spot and four flexes. The MVP also scores 1.5x fantasy points, but he doesn’t cost any additional salary. That takes away a bit of the strategy and makes the goal simple: get your highest-scoring player in the MVP spot.
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This is not expected to be a particularly entertaining contest. The Steelers are massive 14.5-point road favorites, and the total on this game sits at just 40.0 points. That means the Bengals are implied for just 12.75 points, which is one of the lowest marks of the entire season. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that all of the “studs” play for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger is the most expensive player across the industry, but he has not been the same quarterback recently. He’s struggled over his past four games, averaging just 17.23 DraftKings points per game. Roethlisberger has actually attempted at least 46 passes in three of those contests, which makes his struggles even more concerning.
That said, a matchup vs. the Bengals could be the perfect medicine for Big Ben’s ailing numbers. The Bengals rank just 29th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA this season, and Roethlisberger shredded them for 333 yards and four touchdowns in their first meeting. His 32.32 DraftKings points in that matchup were his most in a game this season.
It is worth noting that this game will be on the road, and Roethlisberger has notorious home/road splits. He’s historically posted an average Plus/Minus of +3.76 when playing in Pittsburgh, but that mark drops to -1.16 when on the road (per the Trends tool).
Still, it’s hard to fade Big Ben in this matchup. He leads all players in ceiling projection in our NFL Models, and no one is within even nine points in that department.
The other stud options are two of Roethlisberger’s favorite pass catchers.
Diontae Johnson is the priciest pass catcher, but he’s dealt with some adversity recently. He leads the league with nine dropped passes and actually lost some playing time after two early drops last week. He finished with a snap share of just 49% after playing on at least 75% in each of the previous seven games.
That said, it’s hard to envision that continuing this week vs. the Bengals. Johnson has been Roethlisberger’s favorite target this season, finishing with at least 10 targets in five straight games prior to last week. As long as he doesn’t suffer another drop or two early, I would expect him to return to his normal workload. His ownership could also be a bit down after last week’s performance, which makes him an interesting buy-low option.
That one downside with Johnson is that he’s expected to be shadowed by cornerback William Jackson III. Johnson can still win that matchup — Pro Football Focus gives him only a slight disadvantage — but Jackson is easily the Bengals’ top cover corner.
JuJu Smith-Schuster stepped up in place of Johnson last week, playing all 100% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps. His seven targets were tied for the most on the team, and he finished with six catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Overall, JuJu has finished with at least 17.5 DraftKings points in four of his past six games. He could be busy again this week if Roethlisberger looks to avoid Jackson.
If you’re looking to go slightly cheaper with the Steelers’ pass catchers, you still have plenty of options to choose from.
Chase Claypool has had some monster games this season, but his role in the offense has dwindled a bit recently. He’s played on 67% of the snaps or less over the past five weeks, and he’s had four games with four catches or fewer in that time. Claypool has been able to salvage his stock by scoring some touchdowns, but he’s gone scoreless in his past two games. PFF gives him the biggest edge at the WR position on this slate, so perhaps he breaks that streak this week.
Eric Ebron has also struggled with drops recently, but he’s been highly involved in the offense. Ebron has seen at least five targets in eight straight games, including two games with 11 targets over the past three weeks. The Bengals have struggled against TEs this season, giving Ebron an Opponent Plus/Minus of +1.1 on DraftKings.
The Steelers have had virtually no run game to speak of recently. They’ve logged 68 rushing yards or fewer in six of their past seven games, and they’ve averaged just 54.3 rushing yards over that time frame. The Bengals have also been far worse against the pass than they have been against the run.
Still, the potential game script makes James Conner an appealing contrarian target. Running backs tend to have success as massive favorites, and you don’t get to be a much bigger favorite than the Steelers are this week.
If Conner is unable to suit up — he’s currently listed as questionable after being limited at practice this week — Benny Snell would likely draw the start. He could be worth some consideration in that scenario, but he’s too expensive to play otherwise.
It’s tough to recommend anyone with confidence on the Bengals side. Not only is Joe Burrow hurt, but backup QB Brandon Allen is also out. That means Ryan Finley will make his first start of the season, and his numbers don’t inspire much confidence. He’s 0-3 as a starter in his career, and he’s averaged just 4.9 adjusted yards per attempt in those contests. He’s been even worse over four relief appearances this season, throwing zero touchdowns and two interceptions in just 19 passes.
This could be an absolute blood bath for Cincinnati against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has arguably the best defense in the league, particularly in terms of pass rush. The Bengals’ offensive line is horrid — that’s why they have two injured quarterbacks at the moment — so expect Finley to struggle.
The one potential saving grace is that Finley can move a bit. He ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at the combine in 2019, which ranks in the 77th percentile at the QB position according to PlayerProfiler. If he can rack up some yards with his legs, maybe he can salvage some fantasy value.
Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins figure to serve as Finley’s primary options. Both players are solid wide receivers — Higgins looks like a future star at the position — but there’s no guarantee that Finley can make either player relevant on this slate. For what it’s worth, Finley has targeted Higgins on five of 19 attempts this season and Boyd on four.
Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green should also suffer with Finley at quarterback, and the veteran pair should also receive fewer targets than Higgins and Boyd. That said, Bernard and Green are cheaper across the industry, so they don’t need to do as much to return value.
Values & Punts
- James Washington: $4,400 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel – Washington was another beneficiary of Johnson’s lower snap count last week. He actually finished second among Steelers’ WRs in terms of snaps in that contest, and he responded with three catches for 29 yards and a touchdown. He stands out as one of the better values on the slate.
- Drew Sample: $4,200 on DraftKings, $6,500 on FanDuel – Sample is the guy I’m most interested in on the Bengals. He’s seen four targets on Finley’s 19 pass attempts, which makes sense given his inexperience. Expect him to be one of Finley’s preferred targets vs. the Steelers.
- Kickers & Defenses – The Steelers’ D is very expensive, but they’re clearly worth considering in this matchup. The kickers and Bengals’ D could also warrant consideration as value plays, with the kickers, in particular, looking like solid options.
- Trayveon Williams & Samaje Perine – These two guys actually handled the majority of the Bengals’ rushing opportunities last week. Perine led the way with 12 carries and three targets, and Williams wasn’t far behind with 10 carries and two targets. It’s possible they’ve passed Bernard on the depth chart, which would make both players strong options at their current salaries.
- Jaylen Samuels: $800 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel – Samuels has started to earn more playing time with the Steelers’ searching for answers at the RB position. He finished with four carries and four targets last week, and that kind of workload makes him underpriced at $800.