Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season starts with Thursday Night Football as the Minnesota Vikings play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here’s a break down of the fantasy football starts and sits and DFS plays for Thursday night’s action.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings
Over/Under Points Scored: 44.5
QB Ben Roethlisberger – The Vikings’ defense has returned a few starters but will still be without DEs Everson Griffen (mental health) and Danielle Hunter (Injured Reserve) which should afford Roethlisberger mildly clean pockets. Mid-tier QB2 with a likely capped ceiling.
WR Diontae Johnson – Double-digit targets in 9-of-11 games, 6 of which featured in the 13 targets or better. Minnesota’s coverage skews zone-heavy and Johnson’s 53 targets vs. zone leads the Steelers by a full 20 targets (PFF.com) this year. He’s a tad more productive vs. man coverage but that volume is still noteworthy. MIN No. 1 CB Bashuad Breeland has allowed the 3rd most receiving yards in the NFL this year (693, PFF.com), T-12th most receiving touchdowns (4), and has the league’s worst Coverage Snaps per Target rate (4.9%, read: QBs never stop targeting him). Mid-to-high WR1.
WR Chase Claypool – Claypool is still nursing a toe injury, but he’s practicing. And, this is a can’t-miss matchup. The towering Steeler will square off against Minnesota’s Nos. 2 and 3 perimeter CB wiz kid duo, Patrick Peterson and Cameron Dantzler–the latter of which was beat last week for a game-winning TD by Lions’ QB Jared Goff for Detroit’s first win of the year as time expired. Claypool’s a locked-in WR2.
WRs Ray-Ray McCloud III and James Washington – RRMC is now splitting time in the slot with Washington, who’s transitioned from a rotational downfield role. Vikings’ slot CB Mackensie Alexander is No. 3 in the league in slot receiving yards allowed (398) and T-No. 1 in the league for slot touchdowns allowed (3). Both men are back-end WR6s with strong single-game DFS appeal. The two have flip-flopped in snap share but RRMC out-snapped Washington 67% to 37% last week, giving him the edge in the rankings.
TE Pat Freiermuth – Eric Ebron’s been on IR two weeks now. Since then, Freiermuth went 4 catches on 4 targets for 40 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 12 and 3-of-4 for 26 yards and 1 2-point conversion in Week 13. Irritatingly, Zach Gentry has had four targets come his way during that span which hurts the former’s ceiling. Freiermuth’s a borderline TE1/2 this week against Minnesota’s stout TE coverage.
RB Najee Harris – DTs Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce are back in action and LB Anthony Barr (knee/hamstring) appears to be returning this week himself. Harris’ matchup is no longer the cake walk it looked to be a while back, but his extreme workloads neutralize the threat. Harris is No. 2 in the NFL in total touches (274), trailing only Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor. The difference between the two? Harris already had his bye week, whereas Taylor’s is occurring this week. Expect Harris to put distance between himself and the rest of the RBs this week. He’s a top-3 fantasy RB.
RB Benny Snell – The primary bellcow backup for now.
QB Kirk Cousins – PIT will be without No. 1 CB Joe Haden and DT contributor Isaiah Buggs this week, which should help Cousins a fair amount. Expect him to produce like his typical borderline top-12 QB-self.
WR Justin Jefferson – Adam Thielen exited last week’s loss early due to a high-ankle sprain Jefferson tied his career-high single-game target mark of 14 while setting career best numbers in receptions, 11, and receiving yards, 182. He added a touchdown on top. Sans Joe Haden, Pittsburgh has little chance of slowing the man currently making a strong case as the NFL’s best receiver. JJ is fantasy’s No. 1 ranked WR this week.
WR K.J. Osborn – Osborn was brought back to relevance after Thielen left, going 4-of-7 for 47 yards and 1 touchdown. With the screaming uptick in usage and a soft matchup on tap, Osborn is suddenly a viable fantasy WR2.
WR Dede Westbrook – Westbrook is a decent single-game DFS option vs. Pittsburgh’s lacking slot coverage.
TE Tyler Conklin – Like Jefferson, Thielen’s absence also allowed Conklin to hit a few career-high marks last week. His 9 targets were the most he’s ever seen, his 7 receptions were tied for the most, and the 56 receiving yards were the 5th most. He’s a usage-based TE1, despite the tough matchup.
RBs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison – The Vikings are irresponsibly allowing Cook to practice just 1.5 weeks since his most recent shoulder dislocation (3rd time for that shoulder). Numerous sports medicine doctors have assessed the injury to require two weeks of rest and rehab at best with a full-season shutdown absolutely an option. For now, plan on Cook sitting and Mattison starting as it would be unbelievably negligent for Minnesota to put Cook on the field. The Steelers’ T-26th ranked NEFF run defense has allowed the 2nd most .5PPR RB PPG, 27.5, since their Week 7 bye and Mattison’s Week 13 usage (22 carries for 90 yards and 1 touchdown, plus 3 receptions on 3 targets for 34 yards) was sublime. He’s a top-5 fantasy back again this week.
Update 12/9/21: Dalvin Cook is now expected to play. I consider Dr. Edwin Porras the go-to medical mind on Cook. His analysis can be found here. Of note, Dr. Porras explains that there is a greater than 50% chance of in-game re-injury for Cook right now. Unless you have an incredibly deep team, it’s probably best to start Cook because he can produce in ways that few can. Understand that this is a zero-floor/high-ceiling play though. He is only up for DFS consideration as an extreme contrarian play. The latter can also be applied to Alexander Mattison as we don’t know if the Vikings will put Cook on a snap count/if he’s going to quickly re-dislocate again. In redraft, Mattison is best left on benches unless we get word that he’ll see 10 or more touches.