I’ve been very close on Brady’s statline the past two weeks, but this week is a bit of a challenge. Although the Steelers are allowing 240 passing yards per game, Pittsburgh has given up just 8 passing TDs this year. Brady’s numbers have been good (but not great) in most games this year. However, the Patriots will be forced to throw the ball against Pittsburgh. Even against a pass rush that is expected to be in his face all day, I think Brady could throw for about 250-270 yards and 1-2 TDs by exploiting the blitz.
Welker has been a bit of a disappointment this year. He hasn’t been targeted more than 6 times in any game since Week 6. Although it’s hard to bench him, you can’t reasonably pencil him in for anything more than 4-5 catches and 50 yards right now. He’s still a decent flex play in PPR formats, but his declining number of looks has to be a serious concern for fantasy owners.
While Welker’s targets have dwindled, Branch’s have nearly disappeared. He has just 7 targets in his last two games, which ranks him 6th on the team behind Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Woodhead and Tate. I do not think that Branch will be a big part of the gameplan this week. He flourishes on intermediate routes, and conventional wisdom would suggest that the Patriots will try to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly. Anything more than 3-4 catches for 50 yards is gravy.
The Law Firm flopped in a big way last week. After watching Cedric Benson have some measure of success on the ground, the Pats could try to pound it at a Steelers defensive line that is hurting right now. But if the game is close, I think the Pats will lean on the quickness of Woodhead over the power running of BJGE. I think he’ll finish with a statline of around 40-50 yards and no scores. His biggest value comes from the possibility of scoring on a short plunge, but I wouldn’t advise chasing those goalline points unless you have few other options.
In leagues that reward points per reception, Woodhead is starting to enter the conversation as the low-end #2 RB. In standard scoring formats, he’s scored at least 8 points in four of the last five weeks, and he’s racked up 16 catches in the past five games as well. The Steelers will challenge New England in the trenches, so you shouldn’t bank on more than 30-40 yards on the ground, but he should be able to add 4-5 catches and another 40 yards in the air to pad his totals.
Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez scored twice last week, with one of the TDs coming on a tipped pass by Gronkowski. Now that’s what I call teamwork! Rob was a bigger part of the gameplan this week with 8 targets, but he made a few game-changing mistakes as well. Against an aggressive Steelers D, I would expect both tight ends to play an important role in the gameplan. However, due to his versatility and quickness, I would lean toward starting Hernandez in just about any format. Gronkowski is probably a #2 TE, but he’s not a bad bye-week fill-in. Expect to see about 5 catches for 75 yards out of Hernandez and 4 catches for 40 yards out of Gronkowski. Along with Woodhead, they present the best scoring opportunity for New England this week.
I usually won’t talk much about the kicker position since they’re a dime a dozen, but Gostkowski could miss this week’s game. Even if he starts, Heinz Field is a historically difficult place to kick. If you have the roster spot to spare to pick up a kicker, you may want to consider picking up a widely available player like Cundiff, Hanson or Feely, who all have decent matchups this week.
Patriots Defense/Special Teams
The New England defense is a matchup play in most weeks. They have some upside this week since Roethlisberger tends to hold the ball too long, so 2-3 sacks are very possible. However, they don’t turn the ball over very often (just 11 times this year), and they figure to put up a reasonable number of points against a defense that was just gashed by the Browns. I would steer clear if you can find a better option.