JuJu Smith-Schuster

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Steelers preview

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Steelers preview

Every year, the Patriots go through the same process of self-examination. They won’t know who they are until at least Columbus Day, maybe later. In 2017, they couldn’t figure out what they wanted to be on defense until they threw a blanket party for the Buccaneers in Week 5 and went on to win 11 of their final 12. Last season, it took weeks to hammer out the personnel and attack plan on offense. Then they glitched late and had to reboot a second time after a 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh. In that game, they got run over on defense for the third week in a row, committed 14 penalties and had no flow on offense. But they figured it out and another championship banner will be unveiled Sunday night. What will happen after the celebration? You came to the right place.

 

Fantasy Beat: Safe to trust James White this week vs. Steelers?

Fantasy Beat: Safe to trust James White this week vs. Steelers?

Fantasy football owners seem to get smarter every year. The leagues seem to get deeper. The competition seems to get better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in. But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps. 

Every week, we look at the Patriots matchup and try to help you decide which players to start and which to sit -- or which to invest in if you're playing in a daily format. 

START

TOM BRADY, QB, PATRIOTS

Maybe it's time to put some trust in this Tom Brady guy. He's been on the "sit" list the last two weeks because there were simply too many quarterbacks who deserved a starting nod ahead of him. Not anymore. Though Brady is still close to the fringe, he's startable, especially given his competition. He torches the Steelers, and if he can somehow recapture the first 25 minutes he put together in Miami and sustain it longer, he'll help you advance through to the next round of your fantasy playoffs. 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER, QB, STEELERS

Ben Roethlisberger is at home this week, meaning you should start him if you have him. His rating at Heinz Field (104.0) is more than 10 points better than when he's away from PIttsburgh (92.1). His yards per attempt (8.19) are way up versus what he does on the road (7.30), and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is vastly improved in Pittsburgh (4-to-1) versus when he's away (4-to-3). Combine all that with the fact that the Patriots 'D' is on the road -- they've given up more than 30 points in four of seven road games -- and Roethlisberger should provide you plenty of fantasy value this week.

BOTH WIDE RECEIVER DUOS

Don't get cute. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster could both be considered WR1s this week -- even with one of them drawing Stephon Gilmore. (The guess here is that the Patriots will stick Gilmore on Smith-Schuster and have the McCourtys -- or J.C. Jackson subbing in for Jason McCourty -- on Brown.) Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman, meanwhile, could feast as WR2s. It sounds like Cam Sutton, not Mike Hilton, will get the first crack at Edelman in the slot. Gordon has become an every-week no-brainer starter given what he's shown as an after-the-catch fiend. Plus, he threatened the deep part of the field at the end of last weekend's game, gaining a step on Minkah Fitzpatrick to draw a pass interference call. That didn't help anyone's team, but maybe that's a sign Brady is willing to give Gordon a few more shot plays -- which will only increase Gordon's fantasy viability. 

ROB GRONKOWSKI, TE, PATRIOTS

The Steelers are still the Steelers, which means they're going to play zone, which means good things for Rob Gronkowski. The Dolphins zoned it up on the Patriots last week and Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 1. Gronkowski is averaging over 110 receiving yards per game in his career against the Steelers, and he showed down in Miami that if he's not treated like a serious threat he can put up serious numbers. 

SONY MICHEL, RB, PATRIOTS

I'd be lying if I said I felt strongly about Michel's fantasy chances this weekend. The Steelers are a top-10 defense when it comes to both yards per carry allowed (4.0) and rush yards allowed per game (96.9). Plus the Patriots have been more willing to use James Develin at the goal line of late because Michel and the Patriots offensive line have had issues in short-yardage. But based on opportunity alone, Michel is still a borderline RB2. In his last three games, he's averaging 20.3 touches. 

JAYLEN SAMUELS, RB, STEELERS

Like with Michel, Jaylen Samuels has his fantasy value tied into his opportunity. If James Conner is out, and Samuels is the guy, he'll have a chance to do damage even in a pass-happy Steelers offense. We know just how bad the Patriots run defense has been of late -- allowing over nine yards per carry last week and over seven yards per carry the week prior -- and Samuels could benefit if the Steelers are wise enough to test New England on the ground. Where Samuels is really valuable, especially in PPR formats, is in the passing game. He has 10 catches for 84 yards over the last two weeks and could be a matchup play for Roesthlisberger on third downs if the Patriots try to use a linebacker to stick with the rookie out of NC State. He's a FLEX-worthy option.

SIT

JAMES WHITE, RB, PATRIOTS

The Steelers are sneaky good in certain areas. They lead the league in sacks and are fourth in pressure percentage. They're the NFL's No. 7 third-down defense, and they're 10th in yards per pass attempt allowed. One more? According to Football Outsiders, they're sixth-best in football in defending running backs in the passing game (27.4 yards on 5.7 targets). James White has been fantasy gold throughout the 2018 season so if you feel like you have to roll with him, I get it. You could make an argument he's a solid FLEX play. Still, consider this: In three of the last four Patriots games, he's had less than 35 yards receiving, and with Rex Burkhead back in the mix, White's value as a rusher is limited (39 yards on 10 carries in two games since Burkhead's return).

VANCE McDONALD, TE, STEELERS

You might be desperate here if you've been trying to figure out the tight end position with Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed injured. I get it. But if you have any other options here (Cameron Brate, anyone?), I'd pull the trigger. Vance McDonald simply isn't a big-play option. He hasn't cracked 50 yards receiving since Week 6. He's a scoring threat against the Patriots because they've had issues against tight ends in the red zone this season, but he's scored just three times this season and hasn't seen the end zone since Week 11. The combination of Patrick Chung and Obi Melifonwu has been effective on tight ends recently as the Patriots have allowed just three catches to that position in the last two weeks. 

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Patriots will be without Kyle Van Noy for showdown against Steelers

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Patriots will be without Kyle Van Noy for showdown against Steelers

The Patriots' defense won't be at full strength Sunday as linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who's been battling a calf injury for weeks, is ruled out against the Steelers:

And NBC Sports Boston's Mike Giardi wonders if it could have been avoided:

And what will it mean this afternoon? Giardi has an idea:

There is some good injury news for the Patriots, however:

As for the Steelers, they're getting nothing but good news: