As the fantasy football season roars down the stretch, wins are at a premium with playoff spots on the line. That makes explosive performances even more delightful or dreadful depending on which side of the box score your players fall. This week, Antonio Brown owners will be the ones proudly staring at their fantasy box score for the next two days, beaming with pride like a kid with his first bike or the Cleveland Browns with a win. Ben Roethlisberger’s top target was simply incredible on Thursday night, steamrolling the Tennessee Titans for 144 yards and a trio of touchdowns on 10 spectacular catches in Pittsburgh’s 40-17 win over the Tennessee Titans.
The eruption from Brown put the Steelers wideout over 1,000 receiving yards on the season in just his 10th outing, and was the fifth time this season that Brown topped 110 yards. Brown was also targeted a healthy 13 times on the night, and is averaging 11.4 targets per game in yet another remarkable campaign. Ben Roethlisberger turned in his finest performance of the season, throwing three second half touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter that saw the Steelers finish off the Titans with a 17-0 run. Large Ben finished a yard short of 300, but threw four touchdown passes on the night after not throwing more than two in a single game all year. Roethlisberger wasn’t bothered by the Tennessee defense whatsoever as he leaned on his top targets, with Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and JuJu Smith-Schuster involved heavily throughout the game. This is the version of the Pittsburgh offense that Steelers and fantasy fans alike have been searching for, and hopefully we are treated to more performances like this as we march toward Week 16.
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The Tennessee Titans hung around longer than they deserved to in this game considering that quarterback Marcus Mariota was downright awful. Mariota’s fantasy line was saved by a rushing score and a 75-yard bomb to Rishard Matthews, but the young quarterback was otherwise terrible throughout the night. Mariota finished the game with a four-pack of interceptions in just the second game of the season in which he had thrown more than one pick. Delanie Walker was Mariota’s preferred option on the night, leading the team with six catches and eight targets that he spun into 92 yards. Matthews led Tennessee in the receiving department on the back of that huge score that kicked off the second half, finishing with 113 yards on five grabs. It is notable that although rookie Corey Davis managed to snag just three of seven targets, he did lead all Titans receivers with 54 of a possible 65 snaps on the night. He looks to be still working on developing his craft, but Davis will be a stud in due time.
The Tennessee backfield continues to be a curious place and DeMarco Murray dominated the action yet again, playing 52 snaps compared to just 16 for Derrick Henry. Henry was more productive on the ground, turning seven carries into 32 yards while Murray was stuffed for 10 yards on eight tries. Murray did add five catches for 37 yards and it likely was Murray’s pass catching prowess that led to the tilted snap count while the Titans chased the Steelers. In any event, it continues to feel as if this backfield should be slanted far more toward a 50/50 split, but us fantasy folks don't always get what we want... even if we’re on the nice list.
Titans at Steelers Quick Slants
Le’Veon Bell saw just 12 carries but was targeted 11 times in the passing game, catching nine of those looks for 57 yards. Bell also had a touchdown called back due to being one millimeter of a millimeter short of the goal line. Tough break. … Jesse James saw eight targets and managed five catches for 21 yards and a score. James remains a weekly touchdown gamble. … Eric Decker caught all three of his targets for 37 yards but barely edged rookie Taywan Taylor in snaps. … Martavis Bryant was far from impressive in this game, catching two of four targets for 30 yards. Bryant is not startable with the preferred Pittsburgh weapons shining.
In Other News…
Pro Football Talk reported on Thursday that the Arizona Cardinals and the legendary Larry Fitzgerald are closing in on a new deal that would ensure Fitzgerald’s services for the 2018 season. Fitz had previously not committed to playing next season, but the new deal would give him the option to continue his career in the desert. Fitzgerald has had an impressive season at the age of 34, catching 60 passes (third among NFL wide receivers) for 677 yards in nine games. Considering the fact that Drew Stanton has been throwing the ball to Fitzgerald over the last two and a half games, the veteran’s stat line jumps further off the page. With a studly young running back but an aging quarterback, the Cardinals are in an interesting spot for the near future but appear to be willing to roll with this current crew for one more chance at the postseason in 2018.
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Injury News and Notes…
Leonard Fournette (ankle) was limited on Thursday but is likely just scaling back his practice work ahead of Week 11. … Ty Montgomery (ribs) missed practice on Thursday, leaving the Green Bay backfield in the hands of Jamaal Williams this week. … David Johnson (wrist) has had his cast removed but said his wrist is “still pretty weak” as he attempts to return to the field in 2017. Johnson’s return is no sure thing but he should remain rostered in all leagues in case he sees the field during the fantasy playoffs. … Jordan Reed (hamstring) will be a game-time decision on Sunday, so Vernon Davis should be a quality start once again. … Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder) missed yet another practice on Thursday as he attempts to return from the injury he sustained in Week 8. Hogan won’t play on Sunday and a Week 12 return even appears generous. … Philip Rivers (concussion) squeezed in a full practice on Thursday and will be ready to roll this weekend against Buffalo. … Isaiah Crowell (shoulder) was limited again on Thursday, but doesn’t yet appear to be in significant danger of missing Week 11. … Alshon Jeffery (ankle) was limited at practice on Thursday but says he will play this week. … Eddie Lacy (groin) practiced on Thursday and should return to the underperforming Seattle backfield on Monday night.