Browns vs. Steelers: 4 Storylines for the Week 14 Matchup
On paper this game is a significant mismatch, with the Steelers as huge 14-point favorites at home against the Browns. However, there are some interesting matchups and storylines to follow in this game.
Here are four things to watch for tonight and the impact it could have on your fantasy football team.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cleveland's Pass Defense
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The Browns have the NFL's best pass defense, allowing 173 yards per game. But don't let those numbers fool you, they're not that good.
There are two reasons for their statistical success. The first, their run defense is so bad, nobody has to throw on them. They are giving up an average of 151 yards per game on the ground, which is second worst in the league.
The second reason, they've faced several bad quarterbacks. When you look at their schedule, it's really remarkable how often they've faced teams without an elite signal-caller. In fact, Roethlisberger will be the first top 10 fantasy quarterback the Browns defense will face this year.
Week 1: Cincinnati Bengals
Week 2: Indianapolis Colts
Week 3: Miami Dolphins
Week 4: Tennessee Titans
Week 6: Oakland Raiders
Week 7: Seattle Seahawks
Week 8: San Francisco 49ers
Week 9: Houston Texans
Week 10: St. Louis Rams
Week 11: Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 12: Cincinnati Bengals
Week 13: Baltimore Ravens
In two games last year against the Browns, Roethlisberger threw for 537 yards and five touchdowns.
Fantasy spin: If you're worried about Roethlisberger facing the No. 1 pass defense in the league, don't be. The Browns have had their fair share of favorable matchups this season in the passing game. Roethlisberger will be their first real test and I don't expect them to offer much resistance. Start Big Ben Thursday night at home against the Browns.
Mike Wallace vs. Joe Haden
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Haden is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the league and he'll likely be matched up with Steelers speedster Mike Wallace plenty tonight.
Both players are the verge of becoming elite and this matchup could be the best thing about this game.
However, it comes at time when Wallace isn't getting the typical elite receiver targets, catches or yards.
In the last two games, Wallace has just 11 targets with five catches and 55 yards. His two touchdowns in Week 13 are the only reason fantasy owners aren't pulling out their hair.
In comparison, Hines Ward and Antonio Brown each have 10 targets in the past two games. It's clear defenses are focusing on Wallace and they're taking away his deep speed. Look for that to continue tonight with Haden and the Browns defense.
With that said, Wallace has had great success against the Browns in the past. Last year, he finished with six catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns in two games against Cleveland. Wallace also beat Haden on a long touchdown in the second game.
Fantasy spin: Despite being matched up with Haden, keep Wallace in your starting lineup. He is a top-tier wide receiver who should only be removed if he's injured.
Rashard Mendenhall vs. Cleveland's Run Defense
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It hasn't been a great season for Mendenhall, but he has a great matchup tonight.
Mendenhall, who has just one 100-yard rushing game this season, will face the second-worst rush defense in the league in the Browns.
Mendenhall has still been an effective fantasy running back, mostly because he's scored eight touchdowns, including five in the last four games.
The Browns, meanwhile, have had just one game this year where they didn't allow more than 100-yards rushing by a team. They are also coming off a miserable performance against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 where they gave up a staggering 290 yards on the ground. Ray Rice accounted for 207 yards rushing on his own.
Fantasy spin: Mendenhall should be in your lineup every week, simply based on the number of touches and red-zone opportunity he receives. But this week, Mendenhall is a clear RB1 with the potential for a lot of yards and multiple touchdowns.
Hines Ward's Quest for 1,000 Catches
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Ward is on the verge of joining a very elite class of wide receivers.
Ward is just 10 catches short of 1,000 for his career.
Now in his 14th NFL season, Ward has 990 receptions and would become the eighth wide receiver in history with 1,000 catches or more.
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said this week while it's important that Ward get to 1,000 catches, the team won't force the ball to him.
Still, Ward should get plenty of opportunities tonight with Cleveland's defense focused on stopping Mike Wallace.
Fantasy spin: I like Ward as a sneaky start tonight. His value is much higher in PPR leagues, but does still have value in standard scoring leagues. If you really need a reason to watch this game, start Ward at WR3. That should keep you locked in the whole way through.