The Worksheet, a fantasy football overview by Rich Hribar, breaking down everything you need to know for the Wild Card Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Sunday Night Football game.
|44.62%||23||Opp. Rush %||39.53%||7|
|55.38%||10||Opp. Pass %||60.47%||26|
Against the Spread
Chiefs ATS at Home: 4-5
Steelers ATS Away: 4-4
Chiefs ATS as Favorite: 8-9
Steelers ATS as Underdog: 7-4
We have another playoff rematch here as these teams just met in Week 16 in Arrowhead, with the Chiefs winning 36-10 in a game without Travis Kelce and with Tyreek Hill playing just 42% of the snaps. The Chiefs led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, 23-0 at the half and 36-3 up until 2:54 left in the game.
Circling back to something we noted in the Raiders at Bengals matchup, teams that have gotten blown out in the regular season by a non-division opponent have not fared well in the postseason rematch. Since 2008, playoff rematches between non-division in which a team lost by 17 or more points have favored the winner in the postseason. Those teams that lost in the regular season are 3-15 (8-10 ATS) in the rematch with 13 straight losses. The last win under those circumstances was the 2012 Ravens at the Broncos.
For showing some signs of vulnerability during the season and making “two high” part of everyone’s vernacular, the Chiefs still ended 2021 at the top of the league in a number of offensive efficiency metrics. The Chiefs closed the year second in the NFL in EPA per play, first in success rate per play, first in points per drive, fifth in yards per play, first in first down rate on early downs, and first in conversion rate on third down. The Chiefs may have had a dip in the context of their own personal expectations but compared to the rest of the league in 2021, they were still an elite offense.
The Steelers on the other hand are no doubt the worst offense on paper in the postseason. They rank 31st in the NFL in success rate per play (40.2%). They were 24th in the league in points per drive (1.70), the lowest of all playoff teams. The Steelers led for just 21.8% of their offensive snaps this year, ahead of only the Giants, Lions, Jets, and Jaguars. That’s right, the Texans led for more offensive snaps this season than the Steelers did. The Steelers were 30th in the league in success rate per dropback (41.7%), ahead of only the Panthers and Giants. If the Chiefs have an Achilles heel, it is their defense, but the Steelers’ offense has been so bottom-rung that even they have leverage here in the matchup.
We rarely get playoff lines this lopsided to open the postseason. Since the league expanded the Wild Card Round in 2002, this is the largest point spread in the Wild Card Round. Heavy favorites have been sound bets to win and cover, too, if looking to just spray at the large line. Over that same timeframe, we have had eight favorites of double-digit points in the Wild Card Round. Only one of those teams (the 2010 Saints) outright lost the game while six of those eight teams covered the point spread. By all accounts, the Steelers have the toughest task ahead of them this round. They are going to need to generate some turnovers and get tons of pressure on Patrick Mahomes to pull off an upset.
Patrick Mahomes: After a midseason lull that saw Mahomes score 20 fantasy points in just one of his six games Weeks 6-13, he closed the season out ripping off 20-plus points in each of his final five games of the season. Mahomes threw 12 touchdown passes to one interception over that span, throwing multiple touchdown passes in each game.
That includes completing 23-of-30 passes for 258 yards (8.6 Y/A) and three touchdowns (22.3 points) against the Steelers in Week 16. The Steelers only pressured Mahomes on eight of his 32 dropbacks while Tyreek Hill ran just 20 pass routes (62%) and Travis Kelce did not play due to COVID.
Mahomes has the best fantasy outlook among the quarterbacks on Sunday-only slates and arguably claim to the top spot of the weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger: Roethlisberger is getting one more postseason opportunity in what appears to be his final season. He enters the postseason coming off arguably his worst season in the league. Roethlisberger posted a 3.6% touchdown rate, his lowest rate since 2008. He threw for 6.2 yards per pass attempt, his fewest ever. He has not even thrown for 6.0 yards per attempt in any of his past four games. He was 25th in EPA per play (-0.017). He was ahead of only Zach Wilson in success rate as a passer (41.7%). He was 27th in completion rate over expectation (-2.7%). He was even sacked on 5.9% of his dropbacks, his highest rate since 2013.
From a fantasy stance, Big Ben produced just three QB1 scoring weeks with 12 weeks in the bottom half of the league in fantasy scoring. That includes completing 23-of-25 passes for 159 yards (4.5 Y/A) with one touchdown and an interception (6.4 points) when these teams played in Week 16. That is a low bar to clear in the rematch, but Roethlisberger comes in as the lowest-ranked quarterback for expectations in the opening round.
Najee Harris: Harris exited the regular season finale early with an elbow injury but was able to return in the second half with a brace to produce 55 yards on 15 touches. Mike Tomlin said on Monday that he expects Harris to be able to play on Sunday and he will be needed.
If there is an element that the Steelers can lean on objectively, the Chiefs were 31st in the league in success rate allowed per carry (46.6%) and 30th in yards allowed per carry (4.64 yards) to opposing running backs. Harris led the NFL with 381 touches this season, including 24 touches for 110 yards when these teams played three weeks ago, the lone bright spot on the offense. Harris led all running backs in snaps played (980), 170 more than the next closest back in the league. As long as Harris checks out medically throughout the week, he will be in line for another huge workload on Sunday night.
Darrel Williams: Williams (toe) practiced this week and is expected to be good to go on Sunday Night while Clyde Edwards-Helaire (collarbone) has already been declared out. With Edwards-Helaire out, Williams gets a big time boost among the top backs of the weekend.
In the six full games that Williams has played with Edwards-Helaire sidelined, Williams has averaged 18.3 touches for 96.2 total yards per game with 17 or more touches in five of those six weeks. In Week 16 when Edwards-Helaire exited after 30% of the snaps, Williams turned 14 touches into 85 yards.
The Steelers provide plenty of matchup appeal as well. They allowed the most yards per carry (4.97) to opposing backfields while allowing 16.7 rushing points per game (28th). Kansas City backs turned 40 combined touches into 222 yards and a touchdown when these teams played in Week 16. That includes allowing 104 yards to Derrick Gore in cleanup duty with the game out of hand. If Williams is still limited in any capacity due to the toe injury, we also should expected to see Jerick McKinnon take on some passing snaps.
Tyreek Hill: Hill suffered a heel injury during warmups in the season finale that limited him to just 14 snaps. Andy Reid said he expects Hill to be good to go this week but keep up on things throughout the week.
Hill closed the year with 111-1,239-9 on 159 targets. Despite the strong numbers, the pop moments for Hill were more fleeting since he was used more as an underneath target in the offense than in year’s past. Hill averaged 11.2 yards per reception (his lowest output since his rookie season) after averaging 14.7 or more yards per grab in each of the previous four seasons. Hill had just two touchdowns on targets over 15 yards downfield, his fewest in a season since entering the league.
That said, Hill still received double-digit targets in 10 games this season. The only real question is how healthy Hill is entering Sunday and if he will be pressed since the Chiefs beat this same Pittsburgh team handily with Hill running just 20 pass routes and catching two passes for 19 yards in Week 16.
Hill has as much upside as any receiver this weekend, but also has some added fragility due to the hell injury.
Diontae Johnson: We know exactly what we have in Johnson in this Pittsburgh offense. We are buying in a high number of targets (10.6 per game) and a high floor. Johnson has five or more receptions in every game but one with double-digit PPR points in all but one game. But also due to the nature of the Pittsburgh passing game being predicated on short passes, Johnson also has 51 or fewer yards in each of his past four games after being held below that mark in just one of his first 11 games played.
That includes catching 6-of-9 targets for 51 yards and a late-game score against the Chiefs in Week 16. The Chiefs were beatable by opposing lead wideouts, allowing 17.9 points per game (29th) to WR1. Ja’Marr Chase put a large dent in that two weeks ago, but they also allowed another six WR1 scoring weeks to lead wideouts outside of that haymaker they took from Chase.
Chase Claypool: Catching 5-of-7 targets for 37 yards and a touchdown in Week 18, Claypool made his first trip to the end zone since Week 5. It was the second touchdown on the season after scoring 11 times as a rookie.
Claypool has a total of 107 receiving yards the past four weeks, including a 4-41-0 game against the Chiefs in that sample. The good news is that his playing time has bounced all the way back. Claypool has run a pass route on 87.5% and 97.8% of the dropbacks the past two games after rates of 65.6%, 56.5%, 48.6%, and 73.9% Weeks 13-16.
Despite only having two scores on the year, Claypool does lead the team with nine end zone targets. He also has 14 carries on the season for 96 yards as a unique way to contribute. The Chiefs have allowed a 61.9% catch rate (12th) to opposing wideouts but are 17th in yards per target (8.0) to go along with a 5.7% touchdown rate (27th) to the position.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Smith-Schuster is being activated for Sunday Night after missing the previous 14 weeks with a shoulder injury. While on the field, Smith-Schuster was turning in production similar to his 2020 season, averaging 8.6 yards per catch and just 4.6 yards per target. Smith-Schuster is a leap of faith to take on playing time coming off his long absence while we were already chasing limited production prior to his injury.
Ray-Ray McCloud: The positive note here is that McCloud has 27 targets the past three weeks with eight or more targets in each game. The negative note is that he has just 97 yards combined in those games with 25, 35, and 37 yards. McCloud has yet to score an NFL touchdown in four seasons, with his last trip to the end zone coming in 2017 while at Clemson. With Smith-Schuster returning, there aren’t a lot of fantasy calories here unless we can luck into that first career NFL score.
Chiefs WRs: The ancillary Chiefs wideouts have been whack-a-mole of late. Each of the past three games has seen Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman be the highest scorer from this subset of the offense.
Hardman ran a pass route on 88.2% of the dropbacks in Week 18 after 32.2% the seven weeks prior. A good bet is that the injury to Hill played a huge role in the usage spike. If Hill is not 100% Sunday, Hardman should see more snaps, but it is hard to bank on last week’s usage rolling over.
Pringle has been the best bet for playing time from this group, even if a little all over the place. Pringle has run a route on 75.0%, 70.0%, 67.9%, 54.1%, and 80.4% of the dropbacks over the past six games. Pringle has just 19 catches for 230 yards over that stretch but turned in a 6-75-2 game on seven targets when these teams played three weeks ago. We are largely chasing a touchdown here no matter the direction, but Pringle is the best bet to make.
Travis Kelce: Kelce made a 92-1,125-9 season feel like somewhat of a letdown due to the high bar he had set over his career, but he enters the postseason as the highest scoring tight end left in play.
Kelce did not close the year incredibly, posting 34 yards or fewer in four of his past games, but the Chiefs have finally started to feed Kelce some legit scoring opportunities of late. After just one end zone target through 14 weeks, Kelce has one in each of his past three games, cashing them all in for scores.
Kelce did not play when these teams met in Week 16. The Steelers were 11th in yards allowed per target (6.7 yards) with a 3.3% touchdown rate (seventh), but Kelce always carries the upside of pacing the position on any slate.
Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth is coming off matching a season-high with nine targets in Week 18, catching six of them for 53 yards. It was just the second time that the rookie tight end has cleared 44 yards, but he does have six touchdowns over his past 10 games to give him touchdown upside at the position.
Freiermuth also did not play when these teams met three weeks ago while the Chiefs have had some vulnerability to tight ends. Kansas City has allowed 7.8 yards per target (23rd) and a 5.2% touchdown rate (18th) to the position.
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