Last updated: November 12th at 5:34pm ET.
Team Totals: Browns 21.5, Steelers 19
Winners of four straight following a 1-4 start, the Steelers visit Cleveland as a heavily defense- and run-based team quarterbacked by athletically challenged game manager Mason Rudolph, who has yet to top 251 passing yards in six starts. Never more than a two-QB-league option, Rudolph is a particularly low-end one against the Browns, who rank No. 6 in sack rate (8.3%) and have held five of their last eight quarterbacks faced to fantasy results of QB16 or worse. … After Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, and Tony Brooks-James painfully combined for 41 scoreless yards on 24 carries (1.71 YPC) in last week’s win over the Rams, OC Randy Fichtner shouldn’t hesitate to restore James Conner as Pittsburgh’s full-time feature back following Conner’s two-week shoulder injury. Before going down, Conner tallied six touchdowns over his previous six games and 17-plus touches in four of his prior five, while Cleveland has hemorrhaged 4.86 yards per carry and 4.9 receptions per game to enemy backs. In what sets up as a close game where Pittsburgh should be able to stay committed to the run, Conner is a fringe RB1 play.
Rudolph’s 2019 target distribution: JuJu Smith-Schuster 40; Diontae Johnson 35; Samuels 31; James Washington 28; Vance McDonald 26; Conner 15; Nick Vannett 7; Edmunds 3. … JuJu catches a slump-busting matchup on Thursday night; Browns slot CB T.J. Carrie has been cooked for 412 yards and three touchdowns on 45 targets (9.2 YPA), while fellow slot WRs Cooper Kupp (11/102/2), Julian Edelman (8/78/2), Tyler Lockett (5/75/0), Cole Beasley (4/74/0), and Willie Snead (2/61/1) all turned in useful production against the Browns over Cleveland’s last six games. … Johnson’s big-play ability keeps him very playable on one-game DFS slates, but he’s more of a WR4/flex in season-long leagues. Johnson plays outside, where Browns CBs Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams have combined to yield just 24 completions on 50 targets (48%) for 332 yards (6.6 YPA) and one TD. … Washington has come on strong with consecutive stat lines of 4/69/0 and 6/90/1, although he ran routes on only 44 of Rudolph’s 77 dropbacks (57%) during that span and lost a costly second-quarter fumble in last week’s win over the Rams. Even more than Johnson, Washington’s fantasy appeal is limited to one-game DFS slates. … Held to 40 yards or fewer in 8-of-8 games, McDonald is a fringe TE1 with touchdown dependency, but this week’s matchup is a good one. Cleveland allows the tenth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends.
Fresh off eking out their first 2019 home-game win over the previously 6-2 Bills, the still-struggling Browns offense hosts a dangerous Steelers defense that ranks No. 2 in sacks (33) and No. 1 in QB hits (71), has caused at least two turnovers in eight straight games, and has held opponents to a 17.1-point scoring average since acquiring field-flipping FS Minkah Fitzpatrick after Week 2. Six of the last seven quarterbacks to face Pittsburgh have finished with fantasy scores of QB14 or worse. 2019’s overall QB24 ten weeks in, Baker Mayfield is a low-floor two-quarterback-league play in Week 11’s third-lowest-totaled game. … Kareem Hunt added an immediate spark to Cleveland’s Week 10 offense, parlaying 11 touches into 77 yards and playing a major passing-game role with nine targets. The Browns made an uncharacteristically-creative commitment to two-back sets, frequently aligning Hunt at slot receiver, and even using him as an occasional blocker for Nick Chubb. Hunt logged a 55% snap rate, and Chubb’s role was barely threatened with 22 touches on an 81% playing-time clip, Chubb’s highest since Week 6. Thursday night’s matchup is no pushover – Pittsburgh’s run-tough front has held enemy backs to 202/782/4 (3.87 YPC) rushing and just 37.8 receiving yards per game – but Chubb’s RB1-caliber usage looks secure after Hunt’s debut. Hunt is worth strong flex-play consideration, especially in PPR leagues.
Baker’s Week 10 target distribution: Odell Beckham 12; Jarvis Landry 10; Hunt 9; Chubb 4; Demetrius Harris 2; Rashard Higgins 1. … The Browns made good on their promise to force feed OBJ versus Buffalo – Beckham’s 12 targets were a season high, and his 168 Air Yards were third most in the NFL for Week 10 – yet Bills top CB Tre’Davious White tallied four breakups on throws intended for Odell, who finished with 57 scoreless yards. Even against a solid Steelers secondary, this is a bounce-back spot based on Beckham’s opportunity and odds of positive-touchdown regression with just one end-zone trip in nine games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, OBJ popped as Week 11’s No. 1 buy-low player in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Air Yards Model. … The Steelers’ slot coverage has stiffened considerably, notably bottling up Tyler Boyd (3/33/0), Keenan Allen (2/33/0), and Cooper Kupp (0/0) over its last five games. Yet Landry has stepped forward as Cleveland’s most reliable pass-catching option with 65-plus yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games, earning every-week WR3 treatment. … Averaging 12.6 yards per game since David Njoku broke his wrist, Harris is a touchdown-or-bust play on one-game DFS slates. (Njoku is eligible to return in Week 12.) Ricky Seals-Jones will eat into Harris’ route total if RSJ gets cleared to return from the knee injury that cost him last week. … Higgins made his lone Week 10 catch count, scoring the Browns’ game-winning touchdown from seven yards out with less than two minutes left against the Bills. Higgins lacks season-long value, but he did run 26 routes on 48% of the snaps and is usable on one-game DFS slates.
Score Prediction: Browns 21, Steelers 20