Each week, Dave presents a preview of several of the week’s most interesting contests, offering his take on fantasy performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.
Tom Brady: Brady has been remarkably consistent this season, throwing for at least 200 yards in five of New England’s six regular season games (with 11 TDs and only five interceptions in that span). In this game, however, the Patriots’ QB faces a tough Pittsburgh defense that is particularly stingy against the pass (only 6.34 yards allowed per attempt). Brady will attempt to use his many weapons in spread four and five WR sets in order to confuse the Pittsburgh defense, but it won’t be easy. The key to his success could be whether New England is able to establish the running game. Even though Brady will be facing the Steelers’ many complex defensive schemes, last year’s Super Bowl MVP will once again be the model of consistency. He’ll post 225 yards while tossing a TD as well as an interception as he struggles to decipher Pittsburgh’s blitz packages early in the game.
Corey Dillon: Dillon has reemerged as an elite fantasy back this season. However, this week he will face a Steelers run defense that has their fans reminiscing about the Steel Curtain days. Yet Rudi Johnson was able to go for over 100 yards in week 4, so it’s possible that Dillon could still run for decent yardage. Unfortunately, the Steelers are only giving up 3.9 yards per carry, and you may see Brady throw more than usual early in order to try to keep the aggressive Steelers defense honest. Dillon will eat up 70 yards on 18 carries, but fantasy owners won’t be disappointed. Expect him to also punch one in from the goal line.
New England WRs: The Patriots’ WR situation is somewhat cloudy at this point. Bill Belicheck comments every week that Troy Brown and Deion Branch are improving, but they have yet to return to the lineup. Brown has been listed as questionable for the last couple weeks while Branch has been continually listed as doubtful. So, until Belicheck shifts the conversation from injury progression to the issue of Branch and Brown’s return, you can expect fantasy owners to continue plugging David Patten and David Givens into their lineups since they will remain the primary targets for Tom Brady. For now, Givens is getting the bulk of the yardage with 443 yards, but Patten is receiving the end zone looks, recording four TDs this year to Givens’ one. With both Branch and Brown out, you would think that Patten and Givens are great players to have in your lineup. This is usually the case, but I would advise against starting them this week. Pittsburgh’s secondary will focus on them to make sure they do not break out. Expect modest numbers from both: 65 from Givens and 50 from Patten, but Pittsburgh will keep them out of the end zone.
Daniel Graham/Christian Fauria: Fauria, once a standout TE with Seattle, has been utilized primarilyly as a blocker on rushing downs or as a pass blocker in two-TE sets. Therefore, he is not an option. Graham, however, has risen to the top five of the fantasy TE rankings in most formats. While his 180 yards rank 10th among tight ends, his five touchdowns are by far the most for the position. Graham will continue pleasing his owners, producing 30 yards receiving on three grabs, including a trip to the end zone.
Defense: Expect another decent game from this unit. Expect Pittsburgh to pound the ball all day in order to keep young Ben Roethlisberger out of harm’s way. Because of the Steelers’ commitment to the running game, it should be a good tackling day for Patriots linebackers and defensive linemen. Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi should all have at least respectable tackling numbers. However, do not look for many sacks from this unit since they will playing the run for the majority of the day (unless Pittsburgh is faced with obvious passing downs or a large deficit). As for the secondary, do not expect big numbers, although they may be able to get a pick from Ty Law or Rodney Harrison. As for New England’s team defense, a sack and two turnovers seem like a realistic projection.
Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben has functioned as a quality bye week or injury fill-in this year, and he has shown maturity beyond his years (69% completion percentage, seven TDs, and only four interceptions). However, expect Bill Cowher to hold his hand through this one by having him hand the ball to Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis frequently. As mentioned earlier, Roethlisberger will only throw on obvious passing downs and in situations where the Steelers face a sizable deficit. Expect Ben to complete 13 of 20 passes for 140 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Duce Staley/Jerome Bettis: Staley is racking up the yardage thus far this year (582 rushing, 4.6 yards per carry). Like many running backs, however, Staley has been kept out of the end zone this year, largely due to the presence of Bettis. Expect that to continue this week. Staley will put up huge yardage numbers due to the number of touches he will get; don’t be shocked if chalks up 130-140 yards on 30-33 carries, but don’t expect him to hit the end zone unless he can break a long run. Bettis, on the other hand, is not exactly putting up the huge yardage totals, but his seven TDs from the near the goal line have infuriated Staley owners. In fact, Bettis is on pace to record 19 touchdowns on only 170 yards rushing for the year. So, in that case, I will go with the trend. Bettis gets five carries, 10 yards, and steals yet another touchdown from Staley.
Pittsburgh WRs: Not much to say here – unfortunately, it’s time to sit every Steelers receiver except for Hines Ward, and even he isn’t a top-notch start. Roethlisberger will not throw often, and when he does, he could struggle against New England’s more than capable secondary. Ward could get about half of Ben’s passing yards, so expect 70 and a touchdown from him. Plaxico Burress has broken out of his early-season slump in recent weeks, but he will fall back to earth in this one, gaining only 40-50 yards unless Ben gets the time to take some shots down the field. The latter is unlikely, so giving Burress a break this week is recommended.
Jay Riemersma/Jerame Tuman: With only five catches for each of these tight ends on the year, neither is a playable option.
Defense: It will probably be a decent day for Pittsburgh’s team defense as well as several of their valuable IDPs. James Farrior and Joey Porter will see quality tackling days as they try to fill Corey Dillon’s running lanes. Also, Deshea Townsend and Chris Hope could get some tackles in coverage, while Troy Polamalu could snag Pittsburgh’s lone pick. As for team defenses, there are some better choices this week, but Pittsburgh will still grab two sacks and a Brady interception against New England’s efficient offense.
Bethel Johnson: Brady could look to him if the Steeler secondary keys on New England’s two main receivers. Even though he only has five catches for 88 yards on the year, he will use his blazing speed to possibly grab a pair of receptions for 20+ yards each.
Antwaan Randle El: Randle El is in a situation similar to Bethel Johnson; see comments above.
Aaron Smith: This Pittsburgh D-lineman may be the beneficiary of New England’s spread offense. There will be less bodies on the offensive line for the Patriots, meaning Smith could get some pressure on Brady.
Roethlisberger has played like a veteran in Maddox’s absence, but New England will prove too much for him, even at home. New England 20, Pittsburgh 17.
Dave McGrath is a freshman at LaSalle University, and will be previewing several games in this way each week. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.
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