TNF Fantasy Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings

TNF Fantasy Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings

by December 9, 2021 0 comments

Tonight, Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season kicks off with a matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings. While everyone loves Thursday Night Football, fantasy owners struggle with which players they should put in their starting lineups. To help them decide which players they should start and which they should sit, let’s dive into this week’s Thursday Night Fantasy Preview.

All stats are based on four-point per passing touchdown and PPR scoring.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger

While reports came out over the weekend that Roethlisberger would retire after the season, the veteran quarterback had arguably his best game of the year last week. More importantly, he has averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game since coming off the Covid-19 list, scoring 19 or more fantasy points in two of those three games. Tonight Roethlisberger has a fantasy-friendly matchup against the Vikings. They have allowed quarterbacks to average 18.6 fantasy points per game this season. Over the past five weeks, the Vikings have given up an average of 2.4 passing touchdowns and 21.4 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. For fantasy owners who need a bye week replacement, Big Ben is a reliable option.

Running Back – Najee Harris

The rookie running back has played great for fantasy owners this season, averaging 18 fantasy points per game. Harris has scored at least 15.7 fantasy points in all but one game since Week 1. Furthermore, he has at least three catches in all but two games this season, averaging 4.8 catches per game on the year. Between his work on the ground and role in the passing game, Harris has averaged 22.8 touches for 97.2 scrimmage yards per game this season. Tonight he takes on a Minnesota defense that has struggled to stop the run lately. Over their past five games, the Vikings have allowed running backs to average 97.2 rushing yards and 25.6 fantasy points per game. Like every week, Harris is a plug-and-play RB1 tonight.

Wide Receiver – Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool

Last week Johnson had his best game of the year. He finished with eight catches for 105 receiving yards and a season-high two touchdowns. More importantly, Johnson had a career-high 30.5 fantasy points against the Baltimore Ravens, ending the week as the WR2 only behind Justin Jefferson. In his third year in the league, Johnson has turned into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He has at least seven catches and 83 receiving yards in four straight games. For the season, Johnson is the WR7, averaging 18.6 fantasy points per game. More importantly, he has scored at least 11.7 fantasy points in every game this season. With a fifth-round ADP in August, Johnson has been one of the best fantasy bargains this year.

Opposite Johnson is Claypool. The second-year wide receiver has been inconsistent, scoring under 10.5 fantasy points in 60 percent of the games this season. Claypool has only one touchdown this season after scoring 11 as a rookie. Meanwhile, the Vikings have been torn apart by wide receivers this season. They have allowed wide receivers to average 41.9 fantasy points per game, the second-most in the NFL. Over the past six weeks, the Vikings have given up an average of 213.2 receiving yards, 1.3 receiving touchdowns, and 47.4 fantasy points per game to wide receivers. While the Vikings will get Patrick Peterson back off the Covid-19 list tonight, Johnson remains a plug-and-play WR1. On the other hand, Claypool is a risky WR3 despite the appealing matchup.

Tight End – Pat Freiermuth

Since the Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to a season-ending shoulder injury, Freiermuth has picked up his play. Since Week 6, Freiermuth has been the TE4, averaging 12.5 fantasy points per game. He has averaged 6.3 targets per game since the JuJu injury. More importantly, his six receiving touchdowns are tied for the team lead with Johnson. Tonight he takes on a Vikings defense that has struggled to slow down tight ends recently. Over the past three weeks, the Vikings have allowed tight ends to average 48.7 receiving yards, one touchdown, and 14.5 fantasy points per game. With Eric Ebron on injured reserve and Claypool struggling, Freiermuth has turned into Big Ben’s go-to weapon in the red zone. He is a plug and play mid TE1 this week.

Defense/Special Teams

Historically, the Steelers have one the best D/STs every year. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been this case this season, averaging only 4.5 fantasy points per game. The difference has been the lack of turnovers. The Steelers D/ST has averaged only 0.9 turnovers per game this season compared to 1.8 turnovers per game last season. Meanwhile, D/STs have struggled against the Vikings this season, averaging only 1.8 fantasy points per game, the third-fewest in the NFL. D/STs have scored over five fantasy points against the Vikings once this season. By comparison, they have scored negative fantasy points in a third of the game against the Vikings. There is no reason why fantasy owners should start the Steelers D/ST in this matchup.

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback – Kirk Cousins

While he is famous for lining up under the wrong offensive lineman, Cousins has been one of the better fantasy quarterbacks this season. He has averaged 19.8 fantasy points per game, good for the QB8 for the year. Tonight he takes on a Steelers defense that has struggled to slow down quarterbacks lately. They have given up an average of 17.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season, roughly a point above the league average. However, the Steelers have also given up an average of 275 passing yards, 1.7 passing touchdowns, and 22.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks over the past three games. This week Cousins is a low-end QB1 even without Adam Thielen in the lineup.

Running Back – Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison

Despite missing last week’s game with a shoulder injury, Cook is questionable to play tonight. While Cook practiced only on a limited basis Tuesday and Wednesday, he has a shot of playing in this game. Unless there is a pregame report that he will be limited or on a snap count, Cook belongs in your fantasy lineups. In the past two games that he has finished, Cook has averaged 26 touches for 116.5 scrimmage yards, a touchdown, and 21.7 fantasy points. Meanwhile, Mattison has played well this season, averaging 29.7 touches for 149.3 scrimmage yards and 23.6 fantasy points per game as the starter. Unfortunately, fantasy owners will likely have to wait before right before kickoff to know how to address the Vikings backfield.

Regardless of which running back starts for the Vikings, they have an appealing matchup tonight. The Steelers have allowed running backs to average 24.5 fantasy points per game this season, slightly above the league average. However, they have gotten run over by running backs recently. Over the past four weeks, running backs have averaged 175.5 scrimmage yards, 2.3 scrimmage touchdowns, and 36.8 fantasy points per game against the Steelers. Running backs have also finished with over 190 rushing yards in two of those four games. If Cook plays without limitation tonight, he is a high-end RB1 while Mattison belongs on the bench. If Cook doesn’t play, Mattison steps in a high-end RB1.

Wide Receiver – Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn

Unfortunately for the Vikings, Thielen suffered a high ankle sprain last week and left the game after only six snaps and will not play tonight because of the injury. However, Jefferson and Osborn stepped up in place of Thielen last week. Jefferson finished last week as the WR1 after scoring 35.6 fantasy points on a season-high 11 catches for 182 receiving yards. Cousins targeted him on 35 percent of his pass attempts. Opposite Jefferson, Osborn had his best fantasy performance since Week 6, scoring 14.7 fantasy points. His seven targets were the most he has seen since Week 6. By comparison, Osborn has averaged only 2.4 targets per game since the bye week before last week. With Thielen out this week, Osborn is a viable fantasy option.

Not only have the Steelers struggled to force turnovers this season, but they have also struggled to slow down wide receivers. They have given up an average of 36 fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. Furthermore, wide receivers have averaged 12.7 catches for 175 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown, and 36.6 fantasy points per game over the past three weeks against the Steelers. After not practicing all week, Joe Haden will miss tonight’s game with a foot injury. With Haden out of the lineup, Jefferson has the potential to finish the week as the overall WR1. On the other hand, Osborn is a volume-based WR3 this week with upside given the matchup.

Tight End – Tyler Conklin

Conklin has stepped for the Vikings this season. However, he has been inconsistent at times. Conklin has averaged 9.3 fantasy points per game this season. However, he has averaged 12.1 fantasy points per game when he sees five or more targets. Last week Conklin had a season-high nine targets and scored 12.6 fantasy points. Meanwhile, the Steelers have struggled to stop tight ends lately. Over their past seven games, they have allowed tight ends to average 11.6 fantasy points per game, giving up 14.5 or more fantasy points to the position in four of those contests. With Thielen out for tonight’s game, Conklin will see enough targets to score 12 or more fantasy points.

Defense/Special Teams

In the offseason, the Vikings spent plenty of money to improve the defense. However, the Vikings D/ST has averaged only five fantasy points per game, good for the D/ST19 on the year. They have scored more than seven fantasy points only twice this season. Furthermore, the Vikings D/ST has averaged only 3.8 fantasy points per game over the past five weeks. Unfortunately, tonight’s matchup is far from excellent. This season, opposing D/STs have averaged 6.2 fantasy points per game against the Steelers. However, opposing D/STs have scored under two fantasy points in two of the past three games against Pittsburgh. While the Steelers offense has struggled at times this season, the Vikings D/ST is only a high-end D/ST2 this week.

Recap

Roethlisberger: High-End QB2

Harris: High-End RB1

Johnson: High-End WR1

Claypool: Risky WR3

Freiermuth: Mid TE1

Steelers D/ST: Avoid

Cousins: Low-End QB1

Cook: High-End RB1 if he Plays

Mattison: High-End RB1 if he’s the Starter

Jefferson: High-End WR1

Osborn: Mid WR3

Conklin: Low-End TE1

Vikings D/ST: Avoid


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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

Mike Fanelli is the Editor in Chief and fantasy football expert for Prime Time Sports Talk since 2018. He is a featured writer for FantasyPros. Follow him on Twitter @Mike_NFL2 and reach out anytime with any fantasy football questions.

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