In a week that saw the Jets notch their first win over a massively-favored LA Rams squad, it seems fitting that the Bengals managed to knock off the once-perfect Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati won 27-17 and the game never felt close after the Bengals took a 17-point lead heading into halftime. The Steelers are now on a three-game losing streak and look to be drawing dead for the AFC's first seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. This win doesn't materially impact the Bengals' 2020 season but it may knock them down a few spots in the draft.
A Fall from Grace
The Steelers have now lost three games in a row including two losses to opponents with losing records. This stunning defeat essentially locks them out of taking home first place in the AFC meaning they will be playing in the first round of the playoffs. There are many reasons to point to for their demise but the obvious starting point is Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has averaged fewer than six yards per attempt in five straight games. He has as many turnovers as touchdowns in his previous four games. The Steelers' pass-catchers have all contributed their fair share of drops over that span but Roethlisberger has been at the heart of the problem. His pedestrian 7.1 aDOT heading into Monday night shows how much aggression has been taken out of his game. However, he still has managed to complete just 65 percent of his passes. As short as his average throw has been, he needs to comple passes at a Drew Brees rate to generate an efficient offense. In recent weeks, Roethlisberger has been a crippling combination of inaccurate and risk-averse. Mixing both of those traits together has brought the Pittsburgh offense to a screeching halt. He'll need to rebound in the final weeks of the regular season if the Steelers are to have any chance to make a run in the playoffs.
Without James Conner in the lineup, the Steelers gave Benny Snell the start at running back. Snell chunked off a few long runs but also found himself stuffed behind the line of scrimmage on a number of occasions. He went for 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. No other Pittsburgh running back saw more than one carry. Fourth-round rookie Anthony McFarland received just two touches. It's surprising to see such a dynamic prospect get such little work despite his offense clearly needing a spark.
Fantasy Slant: Whether it's Snell or Conner as the lead back, any Pittsburgh runner is going to be a touchdown-or-bust runner in Week 16. Despite dealing with cramps in the second half, Diontae Johnson led the Steelers with 13 targets, eight receptions, and 59 yards to go along with a score. Unless a pass bounces off his hands in the first quarter, Johnson will remain his team's No. 1 receiver to close out the season. He's a solid WR2 in PPR leagues.
Ryan Finley Shows Up
The Bengals didn't need to do much because the Steelers gifted them great field position on multiple occasions with turnovers and three-and-outs. When the Bengals Offense was called upon, it made the necessary plays. Ryan Finley put the final nail in the coffin with a 23-yard rush for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He only attempted 13 passes for 89 yards but his 47 yards on the ground and pair of scores were enough to get past Pittsburgh. This kind of performance may not be the norm for him but it was an incredibly impressive day against the best defense in the league.
Because the Bengals were playing with a lead throughout the game, Giovani Bernard became the focal point of the offense versus Pittsburgh. He logged 25 carries and one catch. Bernard scored twice, both on plays that saw him break tackles on his way to the end zone. He won't hold much of a role whenever Joe Mixon is healthy but Bernard proved to be one of the more reliable backups in the league once again. Tyler Boyd left with a concussion and did not return but the Cincinnati passing attack wasn't asked to do much so his absence may have gone overlooked. Tee Higgins led the team with six targets which he converted into three catches and 31 yards. A.J. Green paced the Bengals with 40 receiving yards. Cincinnati gets the Texans next week and will likely be underdogs once again. Toppling Deshaun Watson is a tall order but they did show that they are more than capable of hanging with middling teams in Week 15.
Fantasy Slant: Boyd's progression through concussion protocol will be worth monitoring throughout the week. The Texans are bottom-ten in passing yards allowed so Finley may be able to get enough going to support some viable fantasy weapons for fantasy football championships. If Boyd is unable to go for Week 16, Tee Higgins will move into fringe-WR2 territory while Green will at least appear on the fantasy radar.
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Cam Akers will not play in Week 16 with a high-ankle sprain. The news is heartbreaking for any fantasy managers who were counting on the championship hammer from Akers. The Rams' second-round selection had finally emerged as a work-horse back with 50 carries in Weeks 13 and 14. Darrell Henderson will likely step in as the primary runner with Malcolm Brown playing a role on third downs. Henderson averaged 13 touches per game from Week 2 to Week 10, much of which was played with Akers injured or inactive. He should have some RB2 value versus the Seahawks next week.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is likely done for the regular season after suffering a groin injury in Week 15. Le'Veon Bell logged 15 carries and one target last week while third-stringer Darrel Williams only notched three carries. Bell looks to be a three-down back on the Chiefs whenever CEH is sidelined. His proximity to Patrick Mahomes and role within the Kansas City offense makes him a viable RB2 option for Week 16.
According to Bills coach Sean McDermott, the early reports on Stefon Diggs (ankle) "don't seem very worrisome." This is great news for anyone who Diggs carried to a fantasy championship. If he suffers any setbacks in practice, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis will fall somewhere in the WR2 range.