Patriots at Steelers: Who to start and sit in fantasy football playoffs
In the second week of the fantasy football playoffs, which Patriots and Steelers players should you start and which should you sit?
Here’s a quick gimme: don’t start James Conner.
Even if the Steelers running back somehow manages to shake off the ‘doubtful’ tag and suit up tonight, he’ll be playing with only a day’s worth of limited practice – and not to mention a bum ankle.
There are better options available on both teams, including:
Super Bowl LI savior James White has quietly had his best season as a Patriot, racking up over 1,000 all-purpose yards in just 14 weeks of play. That statistic is way more impressive when you consider that he’s split reps all season with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and sometimes even Cordarrelle Patterson.
White has more receiving touchdowns (six) than any of the Patriots wide receivers; he has just one less (five) rushing touchdown than starting tailback Michel.
However you slice it, the Patriots offense has relied heavily on White this season, and that could be the case again tonight.
Playing at home in front of a rabid fanbase should help energize the Steelers defensive front, which has been stalwart most of the year but struggled of late. If the line can seal up running lanes for Michel, that leads to obvious passing situations on second or third-and-long – situations White excels in.
Look for White to do most of his damage tonight on wheel routes and screen passes. A final stat line of six receptions for eighty yards and a score would surprise no one.
It’s an old cliche to say that Bill Belichick takes away the thing that other teams do best. In the case of the Steelers – especially in the post-Le’Veon Bell world – that ‘thing’ is No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown, and you can bet Belichick will have a plan in place to erase him as he normally does.
Usually that plan involves double-covering Brown with a corner and a safety over the top. Sometimes Brown escapes the double-team and makes a big play, but more often than not he’s blanketed by Patriots DBs, which forces Roethlisberger to look elsewhere in order to move the sticks.
Enter JuJu Smith-Schuster. The talented wideout from USC has followed up a sensational rookie year with a strong second act, and seems poised for a monster game tonight.
Don’t forget that Smith-Schuster caught six of six passes for 114 yards last year against the Patriots. He was already having a nice night, even before that magnificent 69-yard catch-and-run that set up the would-be winning touchdown.
Considering New England’s struggles to contain Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills last week, Smith-Schuster could be in store for triple-digit yards again – and this year, maybe even a touchdown or two while he’s at it.
No fantasy football article centered around the Patriots/Steelers rivalry is complete without a mention of star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
What Gronk has done to the Steelers over his last six meetings against them should be illegal: 39 receptions, 664 yards, eight touchdowns. Those stats are mind-blowing.
Think about it: Gronkowski is averaging 110 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game against the vaunted Steelers defense. He’s made mincemeat of corners, safeties, linebackers… basically anyone foolish enough to get in his way.
Even if Pittsburgh manages to find a way to contain him tonight, they know that they do so at their own expense. Double or triple-covering Gronkowski might neutralize his ability to blow open the game, but it also opens things up for other Pats weapons like Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and James White to do damage underneath.
We’re predicting Pittsburgh throws everything but the kitchen sink at Gronk… and it sort of works out for them. The Steelers win the battle by containing him to four or five catches for thirty yards, as well as holding him out of the end zone. They lose the war and the game, though, as James White again plays hero for New England under the brightest lights.