Monday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ San Diego
Monday night's game has a 45.5-point Vegas total with the host Chargers favored by three. San Diego's Week 5 team total is robust at over 24 points. ... A surprising afterthought in season-long fantasy drafts, Philip Rivers enters Week 5 ranked eighth in fantasy quarterback scoring with multiple touchdown passes in three of his first four games. The Chargers are playing high-percentage, shotgun-heavy offense and pushing the pace, ranking eighth in the NFL in snaps and No. 3 in yards per game. With red-zone specialist Antonio Gates fresh off his four-game ban, Rivers is a threat for a big MNFer against a Steelers team that ranks a middling 16th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA and is more proficient at stopping the run than the pass. ... This week sets up as more of a Danny Woodhead than Melvin Gordon game. No. 8 in run-defense DVOA, the Steelers have held enemy running backs to 349 yards and zero touchdowns on 93 carries (3.75 YPC), and get studly sophomore ILB Ryan Shazier (shoulder) back this week. The lone rushing TD Pittsburgh has surrendered went to Ravens WR Michael Campanaro on a nine-yard reverse. Even in a pristine matchup against the Browns' league-worst run defense last week, Gordon was out-snapped (46%) and severely out-gained (46 yards) by Woodhead (55%, 138 yards), even as Gordon finished with 14 touches to Woodhead's 12. With Woodhead not going away anytime soon, Gordon is best viewed as a low-end RB2/flex play in a difficult matchup. Woodhead is a very attractive play in PPR leagues.
Rivers' target distribution in Weeks 1-4: Keenan Allen 46; Stevie Johnson 25; Woodhead 21; Ladarius Green 18; Malcom Floyd 15; Gordon 7; Dontrelle Inman 5. ... The return of Antonio Gates will limit the touchdown projections for the rest of San Diego's pass-catcher corps. Gates scored 12 TDs last season, and has 13 TDs over his last 17 regular season games. On Monday night, Gates is worth locking into fantasy lineups against a Steelers defense allowing the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Allen should still be safe as a target monster, and gets a favorable Week 5 draw with Stevie (hamstring) not expected to play. In Weeks 1-4, Pittsburgh's swiss-cheese cornerback corps surrendered stat lines of 7-102 (Kenny Britt), 6-120-1 (Torrey Smith), 6-60-1 (Anquan Boldin), 11-97 (Julian Edelman), and 5-77-1 (Kamar Aiken) to enemy receivers. ... Green played extremely well in place of Gates, parlaying 18 targets into 14 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns with zero drops. Unfortunately, coach Mike McCoy has been unable to get Green involved in San Diego's passing offense with Gates available in seasons past. Perhaps that'll change this year, but I'd want to see it first before investing fantasy starts into Ladarius. ... Before missing most of last week's game with a concussion, Floyd managed stat lines of 1-29-0, 2-55-1, and 4-63-0. 6-foot-6, 220-pound Floyd is always capable of popping a big play down the sideline, but he sees very little volume. Still, Floyd could be a sneaky bye-week WR3 fill in for owners that play in leagues awarding bonus points for long catches. Pittsburgh's cornerback play is among the worst in football. ... Look for versatile Inman to replace Johnson at slot receiver. Inman is an underrated NFL backup, but at best he'll be fifth in line for targets behind Allen, Gates, Woodhead, and Floyd on Monday night.
The Michael Vick-quarterbacked Steelers have a team total of just barely over 21 as three-point road dogs at San Diego. Although projected game script may cause some hiccups, this should be a prime spot for heavy doses of Le'Veon Bell. The Bolts are getting slaughtered by the run, yielding 487 yards and four touchdowns on 95 carries (5.13 YPC) to opposing running backs. Le'Veon figures to be a usage machine so long as Pittsburgh can keep this game close. Since returning from suspension two weeks ago, Bell has logged 97% of the Steelers' snaps and is averaging 27.5 touches per game. On these kinds of workloads, Bell should truly be game-flow proof. ... Pittsburgh has played extremely passive offense with Vick at the controls, limiting him to short throws in an effort to "hide" their 35-year-old backup. Among 30 dropbacks in Week 4 against the Ravens, Vick had only two attempts further than 20 yards downfield. Although San Diego has played bottom-half pass defense per Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, Vick's usage and skill set at this stage of his career make him more of a target for fantasy D/ST opportunists than quarterback streamers. Vick's on-field performance could get especially ugly if Rivers lights up Pittsburgh's defense and forces the Steelers into catch-up mode.
Friday Update: Eligible for activation off the reserve/suspended list, Martavis Bryant was mysteriously absent from Thursday and Friday's practices, and is now not expected to play against San Diego. A late-Friday report indicated Bryant "tweaked" his knee in last Monday's practice. It's probably for the best among fantasy leaguers who might've been tempted to start Martavis. It also hinders Vick's upside as a potential QB1 streamer or punt play in DFS.
Vick's target distribution through two appearances: Le'Veon and Antonio Brown 10; Darrius Heyward-Bey 6; Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton 2. ... Brown's 5-50 streak was immediately snapped in Vick's first start, managing five catches for 42 scoreless yards in last week's loss to Baltimore. It wasn't all on Vick, though. Brown dropped a would-be 36-yard touchdown and saw a team-high nine targets. Expectations must be checked until Ben Roethlisberger (MCL) returns, but Brown is still at the low end of WR1 discussion. It's worth noting that Chargers RCB Jason Verrett has played poorly and missed Week 4 while battling a recurring foot injury. LCB Brandon Flowers was concussed in last week's win over the Browns, but is said to be on track to play. ... Martavis Bryant's return will render Wheaton and Heyward-Bey fantasy non-factors going forward, not that they were quality options in the first place. Whether Vick can get the football to Bryant downfield remains to be seen. Vick did hit Bryant three times for 138 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh's third preseason game, not including an end-zone pass-interference flag drawn by Martavis. Bryant is a classic boom-or-bust WR3 option. He'll offer WR2 upside when Roethlisberger gets back. ... Miller spent most of last week's game against the Ravens blocking on the line, drawing two targets, and catching one for a single yard. Although San Diego is allowing the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, early indications are Miller won't be a big part of the passing offense with Vick at quarterback.
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Steelers 17