One of the new wrinkles set up for 2012, is that every week of the season, two teams are called upon to cram a week's worth of planning into three short days so they can suit up and play on Thursday night.
My guess is that most of the players/coaches don't like it, but it certainly spices up the week for the majority of fans—especially those who play fantasy football.
Not every owner will have a player from the game on their team, but there are usually a few fantasy-relevant players that might be going against you, so every game is worth reading up on.
With that in mind, here is the analysis of each of those players and what they might do for (or against) your fantasy team this Thursday night.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
It wasn’t the greatest game of his life, but Big Ben did enough against a tough Eagles pass D last weekend to pull out a much-needed win for the Steelers. It was a pretty lame-duck fantasy performance for his owners, however, but he should more than make up for it on Thursday night against a lamer-than-duck Tennessee Titans defense. In his nine-year career, Roethlisberger has two games where he threw for five TDs—with one of them coming against a Titans defense last season that might have actually been better than the one they have now.
He’s definitely a top-10 QB this week and could very well end up in the top five. If for any reason you find yourself questioning your other QB this weekend, give Big Ben a go at it. The Steelers won’t want to push Mendenhall’s knee too much on a short week and will likely just let Wallace, Brown, Sanders and Heath Miller tear Tennessee’s secondary apart.
Titans: Matt Hasselbeck
So the Titans didn’t decide to go with youngster Jake Locker at the beginning of the season simply because he was the future of the franchise—it was also because Matt Hasselbeck is WAY past his prime and looks closer to retired 56-year-old NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace out there than current backup QB Rusty Smith.
Well, I guess he wasn’t THAT bad out there against the Vikings last weekend, but you can’t expect him to do much better against a tough Steelers defense with only three days to prepare.
Unless you’re in a two-QB league where you absolutely have to start him, sit him on your bench where he belongs. In fact, just go put him back out on the waiver wire where he belongs.
Titans: Jake Locker
The Titans have already announced that Locker will be OUT for this game.
Obviously sit him, but they also said that he has a real good shot at returning in Week 7 against one of the worst pass defenses in the league—the Buffalo Bills.
Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall sure proved that he's back and ready to play some football with his 101 total yards and a TD performance this past Sunday. He actually looked pretty quick and even had a little bit of burst going through the line that we didn’t see out of him last season when he was healthy.
That being said, the Steelers aren’t likely to push him too hard on a short week like this, so I wouldn’t expect him to get more than 15 touches on Thursday.
Normally, 15 touches would only make Mendenhall a decent flex candidate, but against a Tennessee defense that allows over 36 points per game, you can definitely get away with starting him in your RB2 slot with at least a few shots at a touchdown or two looking to be pretty likely for him.
Steelers: Isaac Redman
With Mendenhall playing in his first game of the season last week, the Steelers had Redman split duties with him and not surprisingly, he put up his normal ho-hum numbers with the chance. Thirteen carries for 41 yards and zero catches is rather sloth-like as opposed to pedestrian as far as fantasy is concerned, though to expect anything more from him at this point would be downright idiotic.
Redman will likely stay in his third-down back role for the game, but I expect the coaching staff to let either Jonathan Dwyer or Chris Rainey take a few series from Mendy instead of Redman, so don’t even think about being sneaky and starting him as a flex.
Steelers: Jonathan Dwyer/Chris Rainey
Last week, Dwyer was deemed inactive while Rainey got a whopping two touches for six yards. Which of these two will be inactive this week will have to wait until game time to be told, but whichever one isn’t just might be the one to spell Mendenhall and get a good eight-to-10 touches in the game.
Not that I would every start them, but it wouldn’t shock me to see one of these two guys get lucky against this slut of a defense as it seems everyone gets a chance to score when they dance with the Titans.
Titans: Chris Johnson
The one possible thing that could assure Johnson of keeping his starting job at this point was if his backup went down to injury. Well, CJNoK will be starting this week, but it won’t be because of the way he played against the Vikings in Week 5.
Putting up 24 yards on 15 carries and catching one ball for another five actually tied him for his third-best fantasy performance of the year, so maybe there’s hope! No, there isn’t. Especially not against this Pittsburgh Steelers front seven.
I know you WANT to start him, if not for that slight chance he goes off one of these days, then because it’s far too tough to handle the knowledge that your first-round pick is the biggest bust of the 2012 season. Either way, don’t do it. If you’re in a deeper league and simply HAVE to take the chance with him in your flex position, go ahead, just don’t hang yourself when it doesn’t quite work out for ya.
Titans: Jaime Harper
The Titans 2011 fourth-round pick has the size (5’11”, 233 pounds) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) to be a player in the NFL, but hasn’t really been given a chance to do much yet. This weekend he’ll likely be called upon to back up Johnson, but I doubt he sees the field for more than five to-10 plays unless the Titans are getting crushed by the end of the third.
If so, the Titans will want to see what they have in the kid and let him run out the game. If he impresses, things will get real interesting in Tennessee come Week 7.
He’s certainly not worth playing on your team this week, but definitely worth keeping an eye on for Week 7 waiver wire purposes.
Titans: Darius Reynaud/Javon Ringer
Reynaud is more of an all-purpose type of player as he not only returns kicks, but is listed as a backup wide receiver and running back as well. Ringer, as was already mentioned, tore his MCL and will be out for the next 4-6 weeks.
Ringer isn’t really even worth stashing on your bench as a handcuff anymore. Reynaud, though a great athlete, isn’t really worth thinking about past the final words of this sentence.
Steelers: Mike Wallace
Wallace started off the season with a touchdown in each of his first three games, but was held to just two catches for 17 yards last weekend against a tough Eagles defense. With the rate at which the Titans allow their opposition to score being alarmingly high, my guess is that Wallace gets back into the end zone again here in Week 6. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me to see five different players on the Steelers offense score this week.
Get him in your lineup as a borderline WR1 with severe upside this week.
Steelers: Antonio Brown
Brown has been one of the more consistent receivers in the league to this point acting as the security blanket to Mr. Big Ben this season. He hasn’t gone off in any one game just yet, but has received 8-11 targets each week while catching seven passes in each of his last three games. He’s also put up between 74 and 87 yards in every game thus far as well.
He’s normally not much of a touchdown guy, but if there was any one game on the schedule I would call for Antonio to score in, this would be the one. Start him confidently as your WR2 with nice upside and no real downside this week.
Steelers: Emmanuel Sanders
Sanders is one of the better third receivers in the game and probably could start for another team if he ever wanted to move on. This week I believe he’ll get a little extra playing time out there due to this being a short week for the Steelers and them not wanting to run Mendenhall too much in his second week back.
Like I stated earlier, it wouldn’t shock me to see five different Steelers score this Thursday, and yes, Sanders was one of the five I was talking about. Of course, you would never start him in a normal weekly situation, but in deeper leagues this week, I think you can get away with playing him as your flex and could end up pleasantly surprised.
Titans: Nate Washington
Nate Washington tends to come up with the big play when you least expect it and if Kenny Britt comes back at relative full strength this week, he could do it again with Britt drawing the coverage of the Steelers lockdown corner, Ike Taylor. Last year Nate had five catches on eight targets for 69 yards against the Steel Crew, numbers I could see repeating themselves or possibly increasing with the Titans likely having to pass the ball all game long.
He’s probably not a steady start for most fantasy owners, but he could be a nice play as a low-end WR2/flex this week with Hasselbeck probably putting up over 40 passes in this one.
Titans: Kenny Britt
Britt has been frustrating for owners who took a chance on him in the middle rounds of their draft, but patience can be a big payoff virtue in fantasy football and just might apply to Mr. Britt before too long here.
Kenny stated on Tuesday that he feels more confident than he has all year right now, which are pretty much the words fantasy owners have been waiting to hear before sticking him in their lineups. That being said, this is a tough matchup for the explosive receiver as he’ll likely have CB Ike Taylor shadowing him whenever and wherever he is out on the field.
It's coming (Britt’s big breakout game), but might not happen until Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills. He’s worth taking a chance on as a WR3/flex player this week, but I wouldn’t have much confidence playing him as a WR2. Still, his upside is tremendous, especially if the Steelers feel like sticking Ike Taylor on Nate Washington instead of Britt for some reason.
Titans: Kendall Wright
Rookie WR Kendall Wright has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Titans. He currently leads the team with 27 receptions—which is eight more than Jared Cook’s 19 and almost double Nate Washington’s 14—and is tied for the team-lead in TDs with two. His playmaking ability is outstanding and my feeling is that he’ll be targeted quite a bit underneath in this game with the Steelers likely to get on Hasselbeck pretty quickly with their pass rush.
It’s a bit of a crap shoot as to whether or not he’ll get one into the end zone or not, but he should be able to put up at least five catches on the day and could always break off a long one with his dazzling quickness. He’s worth a shot as your WR3/flex, but not with too much confidence so make sure to temper your expectations.
Titans: Damian Williams
Williams is actually one of the better WR4s in the league and can be plugged into the Titans offense at any time. However, he really only gets a shot if another receiver gets injured so as it is with Kenny Britt back and playing, Damian has been relegated back to bench duty.
Nope—and he’s not even really worth a look if Britt has a setback before game time.
Steelers: Heath Miller
By all accounts, Heath Miller has been outstanding this year catching four TD passes in the Steelers first four games while putting up the third-most fantasy points per game thus far. His blocking is still top-notch as well and he rarely comes off the field because of it, which is a beautiful thing for his fantasy owners to see each week.
With the Titans being the worst team in the league at containing opposing tight ends, Miller stands to add to his touchdown total as he is definitely one of the five different Pittsburgh players I’ve predicted to get into the end zone this Thursday night. Start him as your TE1 this week.
TItans: Jared Cook
Cook is second on the team in both receptions and yards through five weeks with 19 catches for 237 yards thus far, while he’s also tied for the lead in touchdowns with two. He’s a great playmaker and constant mismatch for opposing defenses each week and though the Steelers don’t usually allow too many catches to tight ends, they have been susceptible in the red zone allowing three TDs in four games to TEs on the season.
Matt Hasselbeck said that he wants to get the ball into Cook’s hands more often, so he could be a sneaky start for your fantasy team this week if you lack confidence in whoever else you may have.
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