Sep 29, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterbackJoe Flacco
(5) and Buffalo Bills defensive endMario Williams
(94) during the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Ravens 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Week 2 of the 2014 NFL season will open tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Baltimore for a divisional battle with the Ravens. From a fantasy football perspective, there will be some notable players taking the field tonight – some of which will be looking to rebound from disappointing week one performances, while others look to continue their hot starts.
For the Steelers, they staved off a late rally from the Brian Hoyer led Browns last week and escaped with a 30-27 home victory. Le’Veon Bell was a fantasy monster in both the rushing and receiving game, finishing with 27 total touches on the day for a combined 197 yards from scrimmage (109 rushing vs. 88 receiving). Expect Bell to carry the load again tonight against what should be a stingier Ravens front seven. While I won’t project Bell to match his week 1 output, he is still a clear-cut RB1, and a top 10 RB play for this week. For fantasy owners who were concerned about a potential committee situation with teammate LeGarrette Blount, fear not, as Blount only received 4 carries against the Browns. Even if the split in playing time isn’t as dramatic going forward, Bell should still be a good bet for 20+ touches a week, including tonight. In the passing game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put up solid yardage numbers in week one, totaling 365 passing yards, even though he only threw for one touchdown. While Roethlisberger may not surpass 300 passing yards tonight, he is still a decent low-end QB1 option in deeper leagues.
Antonio Brown lived up to his preseason WR1 billing, hauling in 5 passes for 116 yards and the lone Steelers receiving touchdown. He also added a fantastic 36 yard punt return that included a flying jump kick to the face of Brown’s punter Spencer Lanning. Brown is a must start WR1 every week, and for leagues that award return yardage, Brown’s value us only increased. Expect him to lead the Steelers in targets tonight even with the emergence of 2nd year pro Markus Wheaton. Wheaton was no slouch last week either, dashing his way to 97 receiving yards and tying for the team lead in receptions with six. I like Wheaton as a high ceiling WR3 tonight against a Ravens secondary that surrendered over 300 passing yards to the Bengals in week one. Tight end Heath Miller is no more than a high-end TE2 option. Bengals tight ends combined for 5 catches for 53 yards against the Ravens defense last week – numbers that project closely to Miller’s ceiling for tonight’s game. Close to the red zone he could threaten for a touchdown, but as savvy fantasy players know, relying on touchdowns alone is a risky strategy.
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Conversely, the Ravens offense was not nearly as sharp last week. Then suspended, and since released, Ray Rice, was not available to pace the rushing attack. Fill-in starter Bernard Pierce was benched after fumbling on his sixth carry of the day. He finished with only 17 yards on his six carries. Veteran scat back Justin Forsett carried the load the remainder of the day to the tune of 70 rushing yards on only 11 carries. Forsett also chipped in five receptions, but was only able to muster 14 total yards on those catches. Pierce still figures to be an integral part of the Ravens rushing going forward with Rice no longer in the mix. He is better suited to handle a full season rushing load compared to the smallish Forsett. Expect a true committee situation to shake out, with Pierce handling the early down and goal line work, while Forsett mixes in on passing downs and the two-minute offense. The final box score against the Bengals score shows quarterback Joe Flacco throwing for 345 yards on a ridiculously high 62 attempts. However, 80 of those yards came on one play to Steve Smith, meaning he only averaged 4.3 yards an attempt outside of Smith’s long reception. He should not a QB option in standard 8-12 team leagues, but is a decent option as a QB2 in multiple QB leagues.
Flacco was clearly not on the same page as Baltimore’s most talented receiver, Torrey Smith, but his words earlier this week hinted at a possible correction in Smith’s favor. Flacco stated “It’s going to be the 5-yard catches that he turns into 12-yard gains…Those are the things that are going to take him from being however many catches he had last year to being a 100-reception guy.” Expect a concerted effort by Gary Kubiak to involve Smith more in tonight’s game plan. Smith has fared decently well against the Steelers in recent memory, totaling 9 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown in their last two meetings. Torrey is a high-end WR3/low-end WR2 until we see more week to week consistency. Outside of Steve Smith’s (he is still very much a WR3, but good to see he still has some good football left in his legs) somewhat fluky performance, tight end Dennis Pitta was the clear fantasy star in week one for the Ravens passing game. Pitta racked up 83 yards on a whopping 10 receptions. Flacco should continue to target Pitta on the middle of the field and on third downs for the Ravens to be more successful through the air. Pitta slots in right below the elite TE1’s this week, and I am more than confident in starting him tonight. Even if his 10 reception performance from week 1 is unlikely to repeat itself, he has proven that he is an integral part of the offense, and a much-needed security blanket for Joe Flacco.
Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Ravens 17