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I didn’t pay attention to this as much as I should have on Sunday afternoon. It seemed like, from a fantasy perspective, it was the expected war and fantasy totals would trend lower rather than any hopes of a ‘shootout’. It was raining. The Steelers looked to be the better team, clearly. Then Antonio Brown went down…but the Steelers still outplayed the Patriots for 50+ minutes. It just seemed like this was the Steelers’ game all the way and ‘the end’ for the Patriots…the end of them as the most dominant team in the NFL; just another really good team.
Then the next thing I know the Patriots have a chance to win with less than two minutes left. How did this happen? When did the Pats get in that position? I think I was too mesmerized watching Jimmy Garoppolo play at the same time the PIT-NE game got tight.
Final drive, under 2 minutes -- of course, Tom Brady drove them right down the field for a score to take the lead. Well, I guess I was wrong…the Patriots are the Patriots after all. Like five seconds later…JuJu Smith-Schuster takes a basic pass and almost turns it into a long, shocking TD event. Suddenly, the Steelers are in chip shot FG range but also in the red zone for a game-winning TD with little time left. Then came the Jesse James TD not a TD. Then came a silly short pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey which evaporated the clock…which forced the ill-fated ‘hurry up’ play and end zone INT. Does any team have more critical, high drama end zone INTs than the Patriots defense? It’s like their blessed from the hand of God every season.
This win all but assures the Patriots of the #1 seed in the AFC. All they need to do is win one of their next two…versus Buffalo or the Jets. So, yeah…they’ll be the #1 seed. The Steelers are probably ripe for a letdown coming off this game and missing Antonio Brown but they get HOU-CLE the next two weeks…so, they’ll very likely take the #2 seed.
You’d like to think the Steelers are headed to a Patriots rematch in the playoffs but before you lock that in…they will have to beat Jacksonville. The Jags may get the Bills/Ravens first, and they will crush them, and then off to Pittsburgh, where they’ve already smoked the Steelers and will again with Shazier-Antonio missing.
The Steelers were probably the best team in the NFL this season but injuries to Antonio Brown and Ryan Shazier will likely thwart them from every fulfilling that promise.
The Patriots have the #1 seed, but they have no sure path to a return trip to the Super Bowl. They’ll probably face one of two teams who do not fear them in their first showdown – KC or Baltimore. If past them, they get the Jags or Steelers. The Jaguars are built to destroy the Patriots. With the Patriots and Steelers suffering crucial injuries the past few weeks…I think Jaguars are in prime position for the most shocking development of this season – a Jacksonville trip to the Super Bowl.
You know why the Jags in the Super Bowl will be horrible for fantasy football, and football in general…for at least a year? It will embolden the thought that the way you win titles is running all the time, a great defense, and any old QB will do. More old-school coaches will get jobs to mimic the Jags.
We need Sean McVay to save us from this peril. The Rams manhandled the Jags earlier this season. We’ll cross this Jacksonville bridge when we get to it.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- Antonio Brown (2-24-0/3) is done for the season. So, now what happens?
I think it mostly means that Le’Veon Bell (24-117-1, 5-48-0/6) could just see every touch in their game next week. Heavy Bell is coming. The Steelers have easy matchups the next two weeks, so they can go on cruise control and win them.
Juju Smith-Schuster (6-114-0/6) has been Ben’s preferred non-Antonio WR target this season. However, JSS caught that simple pass and broke free down the sidelines for a 69-yard play late. Prior to that, with Antonio out for a couple of quarters, Smith-Schuster had 5 catches for 45 yards…he wasn’t a big deal. He’s not ready to be a #1 WR taking on #1 type coverage. He’s not that kind of WR.
Everyone will be enamored with Juju this week, assuming some kind of direct transference of stats from Antonio…but it’s not likely to be. It will be good, because of the matchups, but not great.
Martavis Bryant (4-58-1/6) grabs my attention more…and I am not a Martavis guy at all. I think what Bryant brings to the table the next two weeks as a deep threat is intriguing. I’ll bet Bryant has a long TD strike in each game the next two weeks…like a Tyreek Hill for the Steelers.
-- The Patriots lost a key player in this game as well…Rex Burkhead (4-12-1, 1-5-0/1), who kept his TD register ringing before he left.
All I can say is…James White (2-8-0) was flirting with RB1 status in PPR before Burkhead stole all the cheese. Prepare for an uprising for White ahead.
-- Tom Brady (22-35 for 298 yards, 1 TD/1 INT) just doesn’t do it for me in fantasy anymore…not the way he’s fading down the stretch. 2 TDs/3 INTs the past three games…not against killer pass defenses either. Under 270 yards passing three of his last 9 games. He’s not bad…he’s just not ‘wow’ anymore. He’s still ‘Brady’ but like with Drew Brees -- things change and we just need to get over it and realize Case Keenum is a better FF QB right now. So is Nick Foles.
The most telltale sign of the Brady flop is the fact that he cannot exploit Brandin Cooks (4-60-1/7) for his own gain. Barely has all year, but it’s really faded off the last few weeks. Cooks caught that pop fly pass early in this game for 43 yards…and then had 3 catches for 17 yards otherwise. Cooks is a WR2-3 with ‘this Brady’. I benched Cooks in a few spots this past week for guys like Marquise Goodwin, Robert Woods, even for Paul Richardson (ill-fated). That’s where we are at with Cooks…and Brady.
Say what you want about Big Ben…he gets the ball to Antonio Brown all over the field. Brady gets the ball to Rob Gronkowski (9-168-0/13) to take advantage of shorter/medium throws to a bigger target. Smart by Brady, but he’s no Big Ben in terms of big plays anymore. We’re seeing the Brady-Brees dip from A+, to A, to A-...next stop B+ to B, which will feel painful as we watch our heroes die.
-- I know Bill Belichick is a genius and all…but Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt? Really? Really?? Late last year, it was Michael Floyd. This team could use some WR depth but it just hasn’t worked out the past two seasons.
-- Jesse James (2-7-0/5) had a TD for a moment late in the game but otherwise had a bad FF game. With no Antonio ahead and two teams on the schedule Weeks 16-17 that are bad in covering the tight end…he’s on the radar. James may have TE1 appeal in nonPPR IF Vance McDonald is out.
-- The Patriots DST is probably a safe play versus the Bills Week 16, but if Kyle Van Noy is out again…that hurts a tad.
That’s where the Patriots genius has been this season…patching the team through all the injuries. Lost D’Onta Hightower and Marcus Cannon for the year. Hogan-Van Noy-Gilmore out for parts of the season. Where other teams crumble with a key injury…the Patriots roll on.
-- DB Sean Davis (10 tackles) came up big in this game…picking up the slack for the LB group. In the two games Shazier has been out, Davis has averaged 11.0 tackles per game. If you include the game where Shazier went down, then Davis has 9.7 tackles per game his last three games.
We’re huge fans of Davis…one of our top 5 players overall for the 2016 NFL Draft.
-- Many of us used the Steelers DST for a stretch this season, and then properly jettisoned them for the Chargers at just the right time. Well, time to retrieve them for T.J. Yates and Browns QB du jour Week 17.
Snap Counts of Interest…
36 = M Bryant
31 = Heyward-Bey
25 = Eli Rogers
33 = Dion Lewis
20 = White
16 = Burkhead