Another week in the books as we near the midway point of the 2023 NFL season. The Tennessee Titans, fresh off a successful win in Will Levis’ debut, visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers sit at a surprising 4-3 and if the playoffs started today they’d be a Wild Card team. This game shapes up to be a classic Thursday Night Football matchup with some sloppy play early on but these two teams have the potential to put up points. Week 9 will see more teams go on bye and a lot of the more elite teams are playing in primetime or early Sunday morning in Germany. But the NFL reigns supreme and we’ll almost definitely be glued to our TV’s for this matchup as we draw closer to the weekend. Here is the latest NFL DFS Showdown breakdown for Thursday’s AFC matchup!
Spread: Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5)
Over/Under: 36.5 Points
Weather: Temperatures in the low 40’s with clear skies and winds not exceeding 10mph.
- Chris Hubbard, Offensive Tackle – OUT (Concussion)
- Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback – OUT (Ankle)
- DeAndre Hopkins, Wide Receiver – Questionable (Toe)
- Roger McCreary, Defensive Back – OUT (Hamstring)
- Mike Brown, Safety – OUT (Ankle)
NFL DFS MVP/Captain
While King Henry has been a little less efficient, and perhaps a little less explosive, there’s been fantasy production. Despite the presence of Tyjae Spears, Henry has 14+ touches in four straight games including 26 with Will Levis under center last Sunday. He’s caught all 10 of his targets the last four games and has rushed for 95+ yards in three of those contests. The Steelers have been easy to run on early in the year. However, they will get Cam Heyward back in this matchup and the team is historically better at shutting down the run with Heyward active. With DraftKings’ scoring, he’s put up at least 19 fantasy points in three of his last four games so we’re trusting the volume in this matchup and he’ll have to do it all on his own as the Titans offensive line is just not very good.
Hopkins was a limited participant in practice Monday and Tuesday but sat out Wednesday with a toe injury. It could just be a rest day for a veteran, but at the same time, it’s somewhat alarming that he didn’t practice the day before the game. Over the last month, Hopkins has a 79.6 receiving grade per Pro Football Focus, which ranks 11th among qualified wide receivers but you have to wonder how much of that score is based off Sunday’s game where he scored three touchdowns. With Minkah Fitzpatrick ruled out for this game, we could potentially see Hopkins getting targeted deep again. The Steelers give up the third-most yards to wide receivers and that was with Fitzpatrick on the field. If he’s active and not limited because of the toe injury, then his ownership numbers will be a bit juiced based off Sunday’s huge game.
Pickens is a human highlight reel waiting to happen as evidence by his touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. We mentioned PFF receiving grades over the last month in the DeAndre Hopkins write-up, but Pickens has been even better with an 80.1 grade. As great as he’s been, I do have concerns about the target share. That highlight above was his only catch in Week 8 and the five targets on Sunday were the lowest of the season. Fortunately, he did find the end zone to salvage the day for fantasy managers. If the Steelers want to win the game, they would be wise to get him involved. They could struggle to compete if they can’t get him going.
The reason why I’m a little low on Pickens? Last week Diontae Johnson had a 37% first-read target share while Pickens was actually third at 19% while Connor Heyward was at 22% (mostly when Trubisky played the second half). Johnson finished Sunday’s game with eight receptions on 14 targets for 85 yards. In two games since returning, he’s gone for 13 catches on 20 targets for 163 yards. He went all last season without scoring a touchdown and he’s yet to find the end zone this year. Sure we could say he’s due, but he’s been due for over a year. The target share is in his favor and he’s returned to being Kenny Pickett’s first target read. The lack of touchdowns is concerning for Johnson but it hasn’t stopped the volume from coming his way.
Mid-Tier & DFS Value Plays
Levis put everybody on notice on Sunday completing 19-of-29 pass attempts for 238 yards and four touchdowns. Malik Willis actually appeared early in the game and lost a fumble. From there it was easily the Will Levis show and he went bananas. In hindsight, the Falcons couldn’t generate much pressure on Levis, who looked way too comfortable in his first career start. So we want to look at why that is. The interior portion of the offensive line played very well. Daniel Brunskill, Aaron Brewer, and Peter Skoronski all posted pass blocking grades of at least 75.0 against the Atlanta Falcons according to Pro Football Focus. Andre Dillard, Nicholas Petit-Frere, and Chris Hubbard all played the exterior of the line at tackle (Hubbard sustained a concussion in the first half), and they each posted a pass blocking grade under 64.0 while Hubbard was the worst at 44.4 so his absence may have been addition by subtraction. Levis was sacked twice, but none of them were apparently at the fault of the offensive line according to PFF. Of the 12 pressures allowed by the O-line, eight were from the tackles. Now it helps Tennessee that Atlanta lost Grady Jarrett to an ACL tear early in the game. But overall, it was a huge detriment to the pass rush. Thursday night will be a bigger challenge for Tennessee. I want to see how this offensive line holds up against T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Co. who can potentially generate more of a pass rush. Even Alex Highsmith has been adding pressure at a solid clip for this defense. I say all this not to talk anybody off playing Levis. Obviously if you play Hopkins at Captain, or another Tennessee pass catcher, you correlate them with their quarterback. But we’re all dying to overreact to one game and anoint him a savior for fantasy football, but I’m simply suggesting we pump the brakes and see how he does against a better pass rush on the road.
Similar to the closing argument we just made for Will Levis, the same can be made for Kenny Pickett. If you’re playing a Steelers pass catcher at Captain then you correlate the play with Pickett in the Flex. Pickett didn’t play in the second half of due to a rib injury so Mitch Trubisky took his place. Now for those of you who want to argue that Trubisky leaned on Johnson more in the second half, it’s worth noting that Johnson, Pickens, Najee Harris, Connor Heyward, and Jaylen Warren each saw four targets from him in lieu of Kenny Pickett. But even last year Johnson and Trubisky did have a solid connection. But we’re here to discuss Pickett, not Mitch Trubisky. The offense will have a better overall flow with Pickett under center and the Titans are notorious for having a pass funnel defense this year and they traded Kevin Byard prior to last week. At a glance, Pickett is boasting just a 61% completion rate for less than 200 passing yards per game. He hasn’t quite taken that next step forward and without a 20-fantasy point performance on his resume this year, I can’t say I’m interested in playing him at Captain.
Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
These two are close enough in pricing that I’m just going to lump them together. If I have to share a preference, it’s Najee, but if you can’t fit him and can only afford Warren, I’m fine going there too since he has involvement in the passing game. Prior to last week, Harris had four straight games with at least 14 carries, but he did bring in all five of his targets to get him to double-digit fantasy points. The line movement on his rushing yardage prop has been trending in the wrong direction to about 45.5 yards as of Wednesday night so there’s some risk here. But we know that. He’s not an efficient runner at just 3.7 yards per carry and he only had seven carries last week. He also has just one touchdown on the year and the Titans are a tough matchup for opposing running backs.
Jaylen Warren received a lot of hype in the offseason about being the more efficient runner in 2022. And while that’s been the case in comparison to Najee this year, Warren’s also averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry and finds himself in the minority of a 60/40 backfield split. Like Harris, he has just one touchdown on the season, but he does see four-to-five targets on average out of the backfield. Not a ton to really show that we should be investing heavily in either. Harris is the better play for the volume, but the discount on Warren isn’t awful either. If you want a mild confidence booster with these two, the Titans have surrendered 430 rushing yards to opposing running backs in their last four games after allowing just 156 through the first three weeks.
Spears carries no injury designation heading into this game, and after all the mystery and rumors surrounding Derrick Henry, he ends up not being traded. So Spears’ fantasy value is still suppressed but for Showdown we give him consideration because every point matters with this slate. Spears has only seen double-digit carries just twice this season and he only has one performance with more than nine fantasy points on DraftKings. He’s been very efficient when given the opportunity as he’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He’s arguably this year’s Jaylen Warren and he’s also stuck behind a veteran running back on the depth chart. Similar to what we said regarding Henry, the Steelers have been beat on the ground so far this year as only one team has seen their running back run for under 80 yards on the Steelers. However, with Cam Heyward back, that could make things a little more difficult Thursday night, and these Thursday games can be pretty damn ugly.
At this price tag, I can deal with playing Okonkwo. He likely sees four or five targets from Will Levis, but I’m hoping that against a more ferocious pass rush that maybe the rookie quarterback does what rookie quarterbacks do and that’s check down to a running back or they take the safe and easy route of taking five yards across the middle to their tight end. Obviously, given how much the Titans threw deep last weekend, that may not be the case. The Steelers have been an awful matchup for tight ends this year allowing just one touchdown to the position. But we are coming off a week where Evan Engram caught all 10 of his targets for 88 yards.
I’m more inclined to play NWI over Treylon Burks ($3,800) but if you like Burks more than by all means, play your guy. I’ll have some shares of both but will take the discount with NWI. Part of my hesitancy with Burks is that he’s coming off a three-game absence due to a knee injury and he played in just half of Tennessee’s offensive snaps last week. Could that number go up this week? In theory, yes, it should. You expect a player to gradually increase their workload following an injury. However, this is a short week and NWI is coming off a game where he caught a touchdown pass from his rookie quarterback.
Now I will say, if you need more of an argument to play Burks, he had two targets from Will Levis on Sunday. One pass was roughly 30 yards down field to Burks, and it was nearly perfect and within Burks’ catch radius, but the Falcons made a great defensive play on it for an incompletion. And the other was a 30+ yard throw from Levis to Burks running up the sideline and Burks actually made the catch but came down just out of bounds. It was a great catch, but it simply didn’t count. I may have just talked myself onto Burks over NWI simply by watching his two targets because, similar to Hopkins, he was at least being targeted deep. He just didn’t register a catch is all.
I don’t love either team, but I am more inclined to play this position on the Thursday night slates. It’s a short week of preparation for both teams, these games tend to start out fairly slow, and the implied total is as low as 36.5 points on some sportsbooks. I don’t love the Pittsburgh Steelers ($5,600) at their price point. However, they are home favorites and didn’t have to travel this week after hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. On top of that, in their last three games they’ve held the Jags, Los Angeles Rams, and Baltimore Ravens to just 47 total points while tallying nine sacks and seven takeaways in that span. The loss of Minkah Fitzpatrick definitely looms large especially after the deep passes Will Levis was attempting on Sunday. But Cam Heyward’s return should help so despite the elevated price tag, I do think this D/ST could be optimal if this is a low-scoring slugfest.
The Tennessee Titans ($4,400) are an okay option, but they are a pass funnel defense with just one double-digit fantasy point performance on the season. However, it’s the run defense that has been brutal for them of late. I know I touted some rushing yardage numbers in the Najee Harris/Jaylen Warren section. But those rushing numbers were just for running backs. Over their last three games the Titans have allowed 472 rushing yards total to opposing offenses while no quarterback has topped 250+ passing yards in four consecutive games. They did force six sacks last week against Atlanta but that represents one-third of their total sacks on the season, and they’ve allowed 70 points in their last three games. But as is always the case, this is a position of variance and a pick six or a kick return for a touchdown flips the script for either D/ST.
Chris Boswell ($5,000) is going to be a very popular option. I normally suggest correlating your kickers with a quarterback captain, but you can play Boswell with any Pittsburgh Steeler at captain. When it comes to kickers, the Steelers do exactly what we want them to do. They move the ball between the 20’s and can stall in the red zone. We already talked about how both their running backs have just one touchdown each. Diontae Johnson hasn’t scored a touchdown in 655 days. He hasn’t scored a regular season touchdown in 668 days. George Pickens is a highlight machine but we’re usually waiting on him to score from deep. So with all this considered, Boswell shapes up nicely against a team that tends to stop offenses in the red zone. Boswell only has three field goal attempts since coming off the bye week, but the Titans offer a favorable matchup to opposing kickers. Six of seven kickers have put up double-digit fantasy points against Tennessee and three of those kickers saw at least three field goal attempts. Volume shapes up nicely and with a low implied total, Boswell is very much in play and should be a popular value option.
Nick Folk ($4,600) didn’t see much action last week during the Will Levis extravaganza, but prior to that he had three straight games with double-digit fantasy points. Opposing kickers have attempted at least three field goals in five-of-seven games against the Steelers this season. Folk has been perfect on all 16 of his field goal attempts this year and he’s made all 12 of his extra point attempts as well. Last week was a dud simply because the Titans scored plenty of deep touchdowns, so Folk wasn’t called upon. This matchup could be different against a better defense, the short week of preparation, and the travel. This is arguably the best I’ve felt about a pair of kickers heading into a Showdown slate, which is saying something if you read what I wrote about kickers in the Monday Night Showdown Playbook: “I don’t really keep track of kickers. Sometimes in Discord when I get asked about kickers, I have to look up who they play for. I just don’t care about them normally…” I’m singing a different tune for this slate. Consider me the President of the Kicker Fan Club and if these two are duds later then I’ll sell my worldly possessions and go live in a van down by the river.
NFL DFS Dart Throw Bargains
Heyward likely gets a lot of attention as a value play with Pat Freiermuth still on IR. Four of his six targets did come in the second half when Mitch Trubisky came in last week. He still has 10 receptions for 70 receiving yards in his last three games and he had an 82% route participation rate which ranked just outside the top 10 at the position. The Titans defend the position well as they haven’t allowed an opposing tight end to score this year, but Heyward’s slowly getting more involvement.
You’re really just hoping for a couple catches from either player. They’ve both seen their roles take a backseat to Diontae Johnson’s return the last few games. Austin played just seven snaps against the Rams but did manage 16 last week against Atlanta which still isn’t much. Robinson has back-to-back games with just one target. Neither are reliable but this is a Showdown slate and both are cheap options that you hope provide some semblance of production.
Kyle Phillips and Chris Moore, WR, Tennessee Titans
Pick your poison with the sub-$1K punts on DraftKings at the Flex. Some DFS players may be encouraged by Kyle Phillips’ three catches on as many targets last week and that’s fine. But what they won’t see on the stat sheet is a 27-yard completion to Chris Moore being negated by an illegal formation penalty early in the fourth quarter. Moore offers some slight savings off Phillips on DraftKings and he logged 10 more snaps than him as well against the Falcons. I’ll lean Moore in this punt range but truthfully, both are so cheap and you’re just hoping to get two catches from either.