Fantasy Football Week 14: New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers start 'em, sit 'em, how to watch TNF and more

New England Patriots' running back Ezekiel Elliott

You can watch "Thursday Night Football," Patriots vs. Steelers, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video at 8:15 p.m. ET.

The New England Patriots (2-10) and their fans better enjoy this prime-time matchup because they won’t have any more chances to watch their team play in such a slate for the remainder of the season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) will host the Pats to open Week 14 on Thursday following the historic news of the NFL moving New England off their Week 15 MNF clash against the Chiefs, something (flexing a prime-time game) that had never happened in the history of the league.

That's how bad the Patriots are, folks.

If both teams care about their futures and about each other, New England should chase a defeat (hunting for the No. 1 draft pick), while Pittsburgh often does barely enough to win (it's somehow still tied for second in the AFC North and looking to make the postseason via wild card).

Of course, that won’t happen, or at the very least nobody would admit to it, making this a game between two franchises trying to find a glimmer of hope in a prime-time matchup that they should have never been put in place to play but that the whole nation would be watching. Maybe.

Pittsburgh opened the week as a six-point favorite over New England and if it can score that many points it can consider itself lucky against a Patriots team that has limited opponents to 10 points at most in their last three outings.

The total points projection was initially set at 33 but is now at 30, which is an incredibly low over/under yet even then an inviting proposition to bet the under considering the massive difficulties both of these two teams have to put points on the scoreboard. The Steelers are averaging 16 points per game to New England’s 12.3.

With the Patriots having scored 13 points in their last three games combined and the Steelers scoring 12 per game in that same span, that 30 projection is probably closer to the best-case ceiling rather than the actual outcome awaiting us tonight.

How do the Steelers and the Patriots arrive at their TNF matchup?

How do they arrive? Well, I guess both franchises would be happy they have at least arrived somehow, some way, and that the season is closer to being over rather than just starting.

The Steelers are entering Week 14 coming off one of the worst losses of the whole Mike Tomlin tenure in Pittsburgh after dropping a game to the 3-10 Arizona Cardinals, 24-10.

The loss was double damaging because the Steelers, following the firing of much-maligned and now-former offensive coordinator Matt Canada were good to put up 421 total offensive yards, marking the first time since they had surpassed 400 such yards in 59 (!) games.

Turns out it was all a fluke after Pittsburgh once more outgained its opponent in yards last Sunday but couldn’t capitalize on that advantage, failing to score a touchdown until garbage time. Add many injuries to the proverbial fire, including losing starting QB Kenny Pickett for a while and the Steelers cannot find themselves in a much worse position ahead of a prime-time matchup …

… against a New England Patriots team that, incredibly, is in an even worse position with a month's worth of games still to play.

New England has lost five consecutive games even though the Patriots' defense has leveled up of late. The problem, of course, is that the Pats have failed to score more than seven points in their last three games, including putting up a goose egg last Sunday.

No need to mention that the Week 13 doughnut against the Chargers on Sunday came on the day that New England decided to start Bailey Zappe in replacement for the benched Mac Jones, which definitely didn’t fix its offensive woes.

TNF Week 14: Injury Report

No need to sugarcoat the report because it is as ugly as it gets and it is not getting any better barring a true, legitimate miracle come kickoff time. It’s so bad and clear, in fact, that even as early as Monday morning we had already cleared most of the availability-related question marks.

The Steelers lost starting Pickett to injury midway through a game for the third time this season when he was hit as he attempted to rush the ball for a touchdown in the second quarter. He didn’t return and was eventually ruled out of the game, while spotted on the sideline in a walking boot. Ultimately, Pickett underwent ankle surgery ruling him out for the next two-to-four weeks, per reports.

Non-fantasy defensive stars Minkah Fitzpatrick (broken hand) and pass rusher T.J. Watt (ankle) suffered injuries in Week 13, too, but both look ready to go for tonight's game.

Najee Harris (knee) popped up in the injury report midweek logging a DNP on Tuesday after not appearing in the initial “estimated” report on Monday. The running back talked to the media after Tuesday’s walk through and he didn’t report any problems or fears of missing Thursday’s game, however.

The Patriots also had a rough outing on the injury front by losing their lone, relatively good performer when running back Rhamondre Stevenson went down with an ankle injury following a hip-drop tackle by a Chargers defender.

We’ve seen hip-drop tackles causing season-ending injuries recently, so don’t count on him making a sudden comeback any time soon. Reportedly, Stevenson suffered a high-ankle sprain and is expected to be out “a few weeks.”

Wide receiver Demario Douglas missed the last game with concussion symptoms and he didn’t clear the protocol in time for TNF, getting ruled out for Thursday one day before kickoff after not practicing all week. Fellow wideout Kendrick Bourne is out for the season following ACL surgery.

Two other starting wide receivers, DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster, are listed as “questionable” to play Thursday on the Patriots’ final injury report released Wednesday. Facing a stout secondary in Pittsburgh, both are most probably not going to put up monster fantasy numbers this week — if they're able to play at all.

One stat that can swing the balance

The Patriots have scored one touchdown in three games and no points in the last five quarters. The Steelers have scored 10, 16 and 10 points, respectively, in their last three games. Can we salvage this fantasy matchup?

It’s more than fair to say that these two franchises have been able to win (or at least earn some respect, maybe, in the case of New England) because of their defenses.

The Steelers defense ranks sixth in the NFL in points allowed per game at just 19.1. Before allowing Arizona to score 24 points, they had not given up more than 20 points since Week 4. They had limited foes to 16 or fewer points in three of their last four games and fewer than 14 in their last two AFC North matchups at Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The Patriots, similarly (if not even better), have put the clamps on their opponents by limiting the last three teams they have faced to score only 10 (twice) and six points against them. They rank middle-of-the-pack in points allowed per game (21.2), but they have a top-four defense in rushing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed through Week 13.

The problem for both squads, of course, is the offensive side of the ball. And it’s very ugly in both cases, to say the least.

New England’s offense ranks dead last in points per game (12.3) and is also in the bottom third when it comes to passing yards (186.8) and rushing yards (103.7) per game. Pittsburgh’s isn’t much better, ranking 28th in points per game (16), passing yards per game (179.6) and barely middle-of-the-pack in rushing yards per game at 115.3.

Add injuries to the fire, and this is one of the worst possible fantasy matchups of the season by far.

I have never touched on defensive units when it comes to recommendations, but it might be the right time to do that this week. Other than that, betting on anyone without massive volume and a sure-fire projection could be highly risky and a volatile, boom/bust decision this week.

One player to start, two to leave on your bench

Start: TE Pat Freiermuth (PIT)

The last time I wrote about the Steelers in this column, I already told you to keep an eye on Pat Freiermuth. Back then, he was still on IR and out until Week 11.

Look at us now, both you and me about to win our leagues thanks to having stashed Freiermuth (then rostered in only 40% of Yahoo leagues) when nobody was paying attention to him.

That’s a stretch, I know, but you get where I’m coming from.

In the last month of play, Freiermuth ranks seventh among players at the position in total fantasy points scored even though he’s only played in three of those four weeks.

That comes mostly from his Week 12 explosion following the firing of former OC Matt Canada. Freiermuth caught nine passes (11 targets) for 120 yards at Cincinnati and finished the week as the second-best tight end across the NFL with 16.5 fantasy points in half-PPR formats.

On Sunday, Freiermuth caught three-of-five targets for 29 yards and only 4.4 points but there aren’t many usable pass catchers beyond him for both this particular TNF matchup, and in Pittsburgh in general. Playing under backup QB Mitch Trubisky shouldn’t impact Muth's outlook for the bad, with the veteran known for using quick throws and giving love to his tight ends on short passes.

Bench in Superflex/deep leagues: QB Mitch Trubisky (PIT)

Following the 400-plus-yard explosion from the Steelers’ offense in Week 12 after the firing of OC Matt Canada, a lot of people got excited about the future of Pittsburgh for the remainder of the season. It was all a fluke.

All the Steelers did last Sunday was put up 10 points against a mediocre-at-best, horrible-at-worst Cardinals defense and they didn’t score their first and lone touchdown until garbage time, when Trubisky connected with WR Diontae Johnson for a two-yard score.

If you have to start one quarterback for this TNF matchup in a DFS contest, then Trubisky is your best option. If you don’t have to and you’re only considering him as a streaming candidate for a week, definitely avoid him.

The Patriots have a very strong defense (as detailed above) and the Steelers simply don’t know how to score points. The combination sounds ominous and Trubisky (pretty much in the way Pittsburgh has operated all year long) is simply a game manager who will do the bare minimum to try and win a game for his team without approaching anything close to a fantasy-worth bounty.

Volume-based start: RB Ezekiel Elliott (NE)

Sadly, Rhamondre Stevenson is down: Enter veteran Ezekiel Elliott.

The Patriots signed Elliott earlier this year but never thought about making the veteran their No. 1 rusher. That will inevitably change going forward. Last Sunday, Elliott was forced into a larger role to cover for Stevenson’s absence. He rushed the ball for a season-high 17 times racking up 52 yards. He also caught four passes (on five targets) for 40 more yards.

Elliott has not appeared on more than 28 offensive snaps all season long and he’s only cracked the 45% snap-share barrier once, back in Week 5. That will need to change out of pure necessity as the Patriots don’t have another natural rusher on their roster (excluding hybrid RB/WR Ty Montgomery). JaMycal Hasty, who is also there, was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row on Sunday after getting claimed off waivers from the Jaguars last month.

Start/Stream: New England D/ST or Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST

You know the offensive options are dreadful when you read this column and find I’m picking both defenses for this section, something that had not happened at all in the past 13 weeks.

Any of these D/STs will likely serve you well today considering their recent performances and the opposition they will be facing in this prime-time matchup.

If you have to pick one having the two possibilities available, side with the Patriots unit. If you have to rely on the Steelers’ defense, don’t lament it, though.

The Patriots have limited opposing quarterbacks to the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game (14.2) and the Steelers rank seventh (14.3).

New England’s defense has limited opposing WRs and TEs to 29.3 and 6.3 (third-fewest) fantasy points per game, respectively, and the Steelers have given up 27.7 and 8.7 themselves.

Both teams are nearly doing the same to opposing backfields by giving up the 16th and 18th-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, 17.4 and 19.6, respectively.

The Steelers defense has indeed made more fantasy-valuable plays through the year compared to the Patriots unit, but in the last three weeks, New England’s defense has limited opponents to no more than 10 points scored and is coming in hot.

One player to stash off the waiver wire

Patriots WR Demario Douglas (23% rostered)

I thought Douglas would be rostered in many more leagues when I did some research for this piece. Of course, the incompetency of the Patriots offense (and facing a rather strong defense this week) was never going to help Douglas’ rostership, but finding him available in more than three of every four Yahoo leagues should make for a sweet late-season addition off waivers.

Douglas missed last Sunday’s matchup after not clearing the NFL's concussion protocol, which probably dropped his rostership even further during the last few days and entering Week 14. The Patriots wide receiver was a solid option to stream against the Steelers but he ultimately got ruled out after not clearing the NFL's concussion protocol in time. Thus his inclusion here.

Even with the prospect of catching balls from Zappe and/or Jones going forward, Douglas’ season-long track record is good enough to give him a chance for the remainder of the season in most deep leagues or if your main wide receivers have gone down injured in the past few weeks.

Douglas has caught at least four passes in each of his last five games played. He’s hauled in four (once), five (twice) and six (twice) in those games while getting six (once), seven (twice) and nine (twice) targets respectively in those last four outings.

In other words, he’s getting volume and making the most of it.

Even though Douglas has yet to score a touchdown this season, he’s been a solid performer in a putrid offense and he’s a low-key, mid-level wideout to slot as a WR3/FLEX starter in slightly deeper fantasy leagues. He’s a pass-catching machine, has grabbed passes for 40+ yards in six of his 10 games played and he’s reached 55-plus yards twice, including a season-high 84 receiving yards in Week 10.