Monday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Few offensive lines played worse in Week 1 than Pittsburgh's, which is a red flag for two reasons: 1. They faced the Titans. 2. Their problems are exacerbated by C Maurkice Pouncey's ACL and MCL tears. So the Steelers head to Cincy without their best lineman to face arguably the NFL's most ferocious D-Line. I'd start the Bengals' fantasy defense with excitement. ... Albeit injury shortened, Ben Roethlisberger quietly had one of his most productive seasons in 2012. He still struggled mightily against Mike Zimmer's Cincinnati defense. Big Ben was limited to 41-of-65 passing for 498 yards, two touchdowns, and four turnovers, absorbing seven sacks in their two meetings. I would not be surprised if Roethlisberger were sacked five-plus times Monday night. ... Antonio Brown was one of Pittsburgh's few skill-position players who played well in the two 2012 Bengals matchups, registering stat lines of 7-96 and 5-97-1. Lock in Brown as a WR2. ... Rookie Markus Wheaton had a highly impressive preseason, but still has depth-chart climbing to do. The explosive third-rounder played just seven snaps against Tennessee and wasn't targeted.
Emmanuel Sanders is somewhat appealing as a Week 2 WR3 candidate. Big Ben targeted him a team-high 12 times in Week 1, and Sanders will primarily face 35-year-old Bengals LCB Terence Newman in coverage. ... The Steelers are getting no production from their tight ends with Heath Miller (knee) still on the shelf, which means Sanders and Brown are going to see consistent heavy targets. It's just something to keep in mind. Miller is not expected back until October, possibly in Week 6. ... Pittsburgh's running game is essentially a non-factor, and likely to remain that way in this difficult matchup. The Bengals held Bears backs to 65 yards on 25 Week 1 runs (2.60 YPC), and the unholy triumvirate of Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and Felix Jones is much worse than Matt Forte. This Steelers offense is simply going to struggle to sustain and create big plays. I think they need to start giving Wheaton more snaps. And they definitely need Le'Veon Bell back.
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The over-under on Steelers-Bengals is 40.5, among the lowest of Week 2. I'd still take the under. Whereas Pittsburgh is in rough shape on offense, they are loaded and vicious on defense, and Dick LeBeau has unfailingly had Andy Dalton's number. In his four career Steelers games, Dalton is 64-of-123 passing (52%) for 688 yards (5.59 YPA), and a 4:5 TD-to-INT ratio. Dalton isn't on the QB2 radar this week. ... A.J. Green was one of the most impressive players on a Week 1 football field, torching Bears CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings for a touchdown apiece en route to a 9-162-2 line. Green's battles with Steelers RCB Ike Taylor have gone either way, but Taylor, 33, is getting up there in age while 25-year-old Green is getting better. Green is a top-five fantasy wideout in Week 2. ... At least from a fantasy perspective, the fear for Bengals TEs Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham is that they will cancel each other out in the box score, and such was the case in Week 1. Both had five targets and five catches, and Eifert led the way with 47 yards. The Steelers annually defend the tight end as stingily as any team in the league. Eifert is probably going to end up with the most 2013 production, but he is not a fantasy TE1.
Possession receiver Mohamed Sanu is vying for targets with Eifert, Gresham, and Marvin Jones behind Green. While Sanu is a respectable red-zone target, his role doesn't lend itself to high-end production. Sanu caught 4-of-5 targets in the opener for 19 yards. Look elsewhere. ... The single biggest surprise of Cincinnati's opener was Giovani Bernard's minimal usage. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis plodded his way to 25 yards and a goal-line score on 14 carries, the Bengals' most explosive runner was limited to five touches and 22 offensive snaps. Until Bernard establishes a larger role, he can't be trusted as a flex play. Perhaps that'll begin as soon as Week 2, but the matchup makes it a wait-and-see fantasy week. The Steelers ranked No. 2 in the NFL in 2012 run defense, and in Week 1 stuffed the Titans for 112 yards on 42 carries (2.67 YPC). Green-Ellis would be a poor flex option. Keep Bernard stashed on your bench, because his time is coming.
Score Prediction: Bengals 17, Steelers 14