This article is part of our DFS NFL series.
We've had some pretty bleak outlooks for Thursday Night Football throughout the years, but the matchup between the Steelers and Patriots could surpass them all. The game total is 30-30.5 depending on the sportsbook, with the Steelers six-point favorites. That leaves Pittsburgh with an implied total of 18.25 and New England with an implied total of 12.25. With that inspiring intro, let's break this one down from a DFS perspective.
It's a rare occasion that the quarterbacks aren't among the top-priced options on a showdown slate, but both Mitch Trubisky ($9,200 DK/$15,000 FD) and Bailey Zappe ($9,000 DK/$13,000 FD) are mostly priced down. Trubisky is the most expensive player on FD, but only fifth-most expensive on DK. At this point, we have enough of a sample to know he's not a quality NFL quarterback, but his desire and willingness to push the ball down the field creates intrigue from a fantasy perspective. He's entered in relief twice this season and attempted 49 passes. In those two half games, he's recorded 9.32 and 8.18 points. The Patriots aren't a good matchup, and the Steelers' offense has been much maligned. Overall, it's a bad situation.
Things don't look any better for Zappe, who is in line for his second consecutive start. He averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt against a Chargers defense that is among the most generous to quarterbacks, albeit in a driving rainstorm. The Steelers have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to signal callers, so don't expect Zappe's fantasy line to greatly improve.
Shifting to running back, there are some questions in both backfields. Let's look at what we know, first. Ezekiel Elliott ($9,400 DK/$12,000 FD) is set to take over the lead back role in New England in the absence of Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle). Don't expect efficiency, but volume will be on his side. It's likely that he leads all skill-position players in yards for either team. It's fairly clear that Elliott will be the workhorse, but there are questions about who will work behind him. The options are Ty Montgomery ($2,600 DK/$5,000 FD) and JaMycal Hasty ($200 DK/$5,000 FD). Montgomery has been active all season but has worked almost exclusively on special teams. Hasty was claimed off waivers by the Patriots in mid-November but has not been active. Montgomery looks more likely to contribute, though he may stay in a special-teams only role.
In Pittsburgh, Najee Harris ($8,400 DK/$14,000 FD) is battling a knee injury and hasn't practiced all week. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that Harris is expected to play, though it's worth pondering the possibility that he loses out on work given that he's pretty clearly not 100 percent healthy. That could mean Jaylen Warren ($8,000 DK/$13,500 FD) sees an increased workload. He was already the Steelers' primary pass catcher out of the backfield but could return to double-digit carries. The New England defense was vulnerable to the run game earlier in the season, but it's held Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor and Saquon Barkley in check the last few weeks.
Overall, Zeke has the safest floor and Warren is my favorite tournament option as a potential home-run hitter. Montgomery could be the value option, but there's a risk he's a zero.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
There's more certainty with the pass catchers in Pittsburgh, so we'll begin there. George Pickens ($10,000 DK/$11,000 FD) is the most expensive player who will suit up Thursday on DK. He's the most efficient pass catcher on the team, though that's not saying all that much (1.93 yards per route run). The intrigue around Pickens comes from the fact that he's capable of posting spike weeks, as he's posted DK scores of 25.7 and 29.6 this season. It's unlikely he manages a score like that this week, but if he does, he's going to be on a tournament-winning lineup. Diontae Johnson ($9,800 DK/$11,500 FD) gets the most opportunity (23.2 percent targets per route run) but has had few explosive performances this season. He's reached double-digit targets only once and has 50 yards or fewer in four consecutive games. The case for Johnson is his history with Trubisky. In the nine games Trubisky has played the last two seasons, Johnson has posted 13.27 PPR points. In the 16 games with Pickett under center, he's averaged 9.32 PPR points.
Pat Freiermuth ($7,400 DK/$9,500 FD) is an interesting case. He's had an underwhelming season as a whole, but he spiked for a 9-120 performance in Week 12. The Patriots have allowed only one touchdown and the fifth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends this season, so the matchup certainly isn't on his side.
No other pass catcher has emerged. Allen Robinson ($3,000 DK/$7,500) hasn't topped 20 yards since Week 7, while Calvin Austin (2,400 DK/$6,500 FD) has seen more than one target just once in his last eight games. The matchup for wide receivers is mediocre on paper, but the Patriots have shut down wide receivers the last several weeks.
On the New England side, a lot will depend on availability. Demario Douglas (concussion) and Kayshon Boutte (shoulder) are both out. DeVante Parker ($5,600 DK/$9,000 FD) is questionable with a knee injury but leads the wide receivers in routes run. He has only 1.09 yards per route run and just a 16.0 percent target per route run rate, but he'll be involved if he's active. JuJu Smith-Schuster ($3,800 DK/$8,000 FD) is similarly questionable with an ankle issue. He's had a dismal season by topping 15 receiving yards just three times, but opportunity should be there Thursday night if he's active. Tyquan Thornton ($3,400 DK/$7,000 FD) played in a season-high 81 percent of snaps in Week 13. If there's an explosive player in this offense, it's him. He's a significantly discounted version of Pickens by any definition, be it cost, role or talent. If Parker or Smith-Schuster is out, Jalen Reagor ($1,600 DK/$6,000 FD) could be a punt play.
The true beneficiaries of New England's receiving corps could be Hunter Henry ($5,200 DK/$7,500 FD) and Mike Gesicki ($1,200 DK, $6,000 FD). Gesicki is touchdown or bust, but Henry has at least seen 16 targets across the last four games — even after getting zero looks in Week 12. None of these options are inspiring, if I were to bet on New England pass catchers delivering viable stat lines I'd side with Parker and Henry.
The Steelers' defense has been fairly stingy overall, so the matchup isn't particularly positive.
Chris Boswell ($5,400 DK/$8,500 FD) has been accurate this season, but his opportunity has been lacking. He's made only one field goal in four of his last seven games. Given the uninspiring skill-position options, he's worth keeping in mind. Chad Ryland ($4,600 DK/$8,500 FD) has both lacked opportunity and been inaccurate, so the interest in him should be minimal.
The Steelers ($6,600 DK/$10,000 FD) and Patriots ($5,000 DK/$9,000 FD) are likely to see inflated roster rates. For the Steelers, that's justified, as they are tied for third in the league in takeaways and New England has turned the ball over the seventh-most times this season. The Patriots are stingy in terms of points allowed, but they have only 11 takeaways this season. They see a slight bump in potential with Trubisky under center instead of Kenny Pickett (ankle), but they are likely to be overvalued given the projected nature of this game.