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Fantasy Football Picks: Browns vs. Steelers DraftKings NFL DFS Showdown Strategy for Wild Card Weekend

Garion Thorne preps you for Sunday’s 8:15 p.m. ET contest between the Browns and the Steelers with game-script analysis and Captain’s Picks.

You were expecting a normal playoff game featuring the Cleveland Browns just days after the end of 2020? How naive are you, sweet reader? Needless to say, things are going to be a little messy when everyone’s favorite underdog franchise takes on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday evening. Not only do the Browns currently have eight players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and an additional seven players listed as questionable, but their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, won’t be on the sideline to call plays.

What does this all mean? Let’s break it all down from a Showdown perspective.

Set your DraftKings fantasy football lineups here: NFL $800K Sunday Night Showdown [$200K to 1st] (CLE vs PIT)



SHOWDOWN STRATEGY

Captain’s Picks

Ben Roethlisberger ($15,600 CP) - I’m not going to sit here and act like there weren’t some very concerning things going on during the regular season for Roethlisberger — the fact he only averaged 6.9 intended air yards per attempt is damning — but the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to this weekend’s matchup. Not only is the veteran QB coming off a week of rest, but the Browns’ secondary is a nightmare right now. Putting aside that Cleveland’s essentially been using backup safeties all year long, the team will now be down Ronnie Harrison for Sunday’s contest, while starting corners Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell are also massive question marks. It’s not like this was a great unit to begin with, either, as the Browns sat 25th in pass defense DVOA. It all feels like a situation that Roethlisberger can exploit, especially if the Steelers’ offensive trends carry over into the playoffs. Pittsburgh led all teams in pass attempts per game (41.0), the main reason Roethlisberger was able to hit the 300-yard bonus five times without throwing downfield.

Diontae Johnson ($14,700 CP) - Keeping that pass-heavy script in mind, Cleveland’s defensive woes also stack up really nicely for Pittsburgh’s talented wide receivers as a whole. Still, if I had to single out one wideout in particular, it would have to be Johnson. Not counting Week 14’s matchup with the Bills — a contest where Johnson was benched due to some early drops — here are the sophomore’s target totals from Week 9 to Week 16: 10, 11, 13, 16, 12, 13 and 14. In fact, across that same eight-game span, Johnson’s 96 total targets were 11 more than any other WR in football. Again, this is all bad news for the Browns, as they’ve surrendered 9.2 yards per target to opposing wide receivers going back to the beginning of Week 12 — the sixth-highest figure in the league.


FLEX Plays

Eric Ebron ($5,400) - It truly feels like tight ends have been wrecking havoc on the Browns for the better part of a decade. During the regular season, Cleveland conceded the fifth-most targets (127) and the fifth-most DKFP to opposing TEs, opening the door to the possibility of a very big Ebron performance, just days after being activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The former first-round pick registered at least five receptions in six contests throughout 2020, while he also sat behind only JuJu Smith-Schuster ($8,800) on the Steelers in red zone targets (16). That’s a recipe for success.

Rashard Higgins ($5,000) - There’s a couple of things to remember when it comes to dissecting Higgins’ viability. First, the wideout is a big play waiting to happen, as he’s averaged an impressive 16.2 yards per catch so far this season. Second, with Donovan Peoples-Jones ($2,000; concussion) questionable and KhaDarel Hodge on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, there’s a chance that Higgins and Jarvis Landry ($9,000) are the only receivers that Baker Mayfield ($9,600) has left to throw to. Maybe you could take a chance on Ja’Marcus Bradley ($200) at the minimum if Peoples-Jones is ruled out; but Higgins is combines floor and ceiling at a very fair price.

Steelers D/ST ($4,600) - Generally speaking, utilizing Pittsburgh’s defense is always a decent idea. The Steelers had the league’s best overall unit by DVOA, they led the NFL in quarterback hits (136), they allowed the fewest points per drive in the AFC (1.65) and they forced a turnover on 14.0% of opponent drives in total. That’s all really impressive and good in a vacuum; now consider that the Browns won’t have their head coach and offensive play caller on the sidelines on Sunday. That is a competitive disadvantage that I don’t think I’ve even fully processed yet. So, as per usual, Steelers D/ST is a useful asset in the mid-tier.


Fades

Nick Chubb ($10,200) - Before I start listing the reasons why I won’t be using Chubb this weekend, let’s remember that this is a man that’s scored a touchdown in six-straight games. He’s pretty good at football. Anyway, things are not lining up in Chubb’s favor when it comes to this matchup. A huge part of the running back’s success this season can be attributed to outstanding offensive line play from the Browns. However, said offensive line is looking a little leaky as of writing. We already know that Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio will miss this Sunday’s game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and, on top of his absence, tackle Jack Conklin and guard Wyatt Teller are questionable due to injury. Factor in a Steelers defense that’s conceded the fifth-fewest DKFP to opposing RBs, Chubb’s general apathy to catching the football and the possibility of a negative script, and I’m thinking my money can be better spend elsewhere.


THE OUTCOME

It’s hard to imagine telling myself three weeks ago that I’d like Pittsburgh to cover a six-point spread in the playoffs, yet this is simply a nightmarish matchup and set of circumstances for Cleveland. No head coach, eight players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and a secondary that’s basically being held together by little bits of string. The Browns barely beat a Steelers squad that was uninterested in winning last Sunday, I don’t think they’ll be able to handle the real thing during Wild Card weekend.

Final Score: Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 17

Set your DraftKings fantasy football lineups here: NFL $800K Sunday Night Showdown [$200K to 1st] (CLE vs PIT)


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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.