The shine has come off the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season recently. Undefeated just two weeks ago, the Steelers are now not even the No. 1 seed in the AFC’s playoff picture after back-to-back losses. But they have a get-right spot in front of them in the form of a Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers (11-2) fell to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday night, 26-15. Pittsburgh’s offense continued to be one-dimensional as it had little success on the ground yet again. James Conner gained just 18 yards on 10 carries, and the Steelers have averaged only 45.3 rushing yards over their last three games. Ben Roethlisberger completed 21 of 37 throws for 187 yards. He recorded two touchdowns but also two interceptions and was let down by a number of drops from his receiving corps. JuJu Smith-Schuster was his most sure-handed target, hauling in six of seven looks for a team-high 55 receiving yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger’s other TD went to James Washington. Wideouts Diontae Johnson (4-40-0) and Chase Claypool (3-15-0) put up unsatisfying stat lines.
While Pittsburgh’s season has hit a stumbling block, the Bengals (2-10-1) have seen their year fall straight off a cliff in the wake of QB Joe Burrow’s season-ending knee injury. Since that awful turn of events in Week 11, the Bengals’ offense has accounted for two touchdowns in 14 quarters. Cincinnati was blown out at home to the near-equally hapless Cowboys in Week 14 by the score of 30-7. Quarterback Brandon Allen had his best statistical game thus far this season, going 27 for 36 for 217 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. That TD went to A.J. Green, who set team-highs with six catches and 62 yards. An early fumble put Giovani Bernard (six touches, 23 yards) in the doghouse for a long while and created more opportunities for Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams. Neither man really stood out; Perine took 10 carries for 32 yards while Williams took 12 carries for 49 yards but also lost a fumble.
Date: Monday, Dec. 21
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Notable Statistical rankings (Football Outsiders)
Steelers: #4 Overall — #20 offense, #1 defense, #14 special teams
Bengals: #31 Overall — #30 offense, #29 defense, #6 special teams
Fantasy football start/sit advice
James Conner, RB, $6,000
The Bengals are a soft matchup for all running backs, but it has become impossible to trust Conner at this point. It’s not all his fault; Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been demolished by injuries, and he is dealing with ailments of his own. A quad injury sidelined him from practice on Wednesday and Thursday. However, he did return on Friday. Conner hasn’t scored in his last four games and hasn’t topped even 50 rushing yards in four of his last five. In that five-game span, he has not received more than 15 carries in any contest. Conner has also been a bit player in Pittsburgh’s passing game, which further dings his upside on DraftKings.
Eric Ebron, TE, $4,400
Ebron is a difficult player to watch because he seemingly lets a catchable ball or two slip right through his hands every week. But he is still getting enough targets to matter and has been pretty productive of late, his Week 14 outing notwithstanding. The Bengals have given up big box scores to tight ends Evan Engram and Mike Gesicki recently, so there is a good chance that Ebron will attain double-digit DraftKings points in this one. He has reached that standard in three of his last four games.
Giovani Bernard, RB, $4,500
Up until now, you could cobble together a feasible argument to use Bernard as a flex option in deeper leagues. That was all washed away in Week 14 as the Bengals gave two other, younger RBs more work. This matchup against the Steelers, who have allowed the fewest DraftKings points to running backs, would have been reason enough to shy away from Bernard even if he was guaranteed 15-plus touches. With that no longer assured, Gio, like many of his skill-position teammates, should be on your bench or perhaps your waiver wire.
Tee Higgins, WR, $4,600
If you are forced to use a Bengal this week, hopefully it’s the rookie Higgins, who has the best blend of big-play ability and target equity of any receiver here. Higgins has been targeted 21 times in three full games without Burrow. He hasn’t put together huge numbers, but he caught five passes in each of those games. He really popped against the Steelers in Week 10, catching seven of nine targets for 115 yards and a score. Although there’s a different QB under center this time around, Higgins has proven he can do good things against this defense if he is just given a chance.