NFL Grind Down: Week 11 - NFL DFS Picks and Analysis

Written by Notorious

Welcome to the RotoGrinders NFL Grind Down, an all-encompassing preview of the week ahead in the NFL from a daily fantasy sports perspective. We’ll provide all the statistics, insights and analysis you need to set your lineups for this week’s contests.

NOTE: Games will be published as they are completed. Primetime matchups are free for all users. Main slate breakdowns can only be accessed by Premium subscribers.

Every game will be broken down statistically, with several key elements highlighted in our charts. Vegas lines are broken down to show projected team totals, to give you an idea of who is favored to win, and often more importantly, how many points they’re expected to score. Each contest is then analyzed team-by-team, with a focus on finding matchups to exploit and trends to follow.

Vegas Overview

PIT @ CLE Team Spread Total Implied Moneyline
CLE -2.5 41 21.75 -148
PIT 2.5 41 19.25 128

Betting Quick Take: The Browns have underwhelmed all season, but are coming off of a nice win over the Bills in Week 10. They might need to run the table to have a shot at the playoffs and while that’s not realistic, they can play the role of spoiler for their division rival. The Steelers have ridden a stout defense to four straight wins, but a lackluster offense could eventually come back to bite them. Cleveland has nearly as much talent as Pittsburgh on the defensive side of the ball and certainly have more playmakers on offense. While coaching is another story, I’ll side with the Browns at home. I don’t have a strong take on the NFL odds total, especially since it’s expected to be cold and windy tonight in Cleveland.

Cleveland -2.5
Confidence Level: 7 out of 10

Injury Situations

Player Team Pos Status Part Impact
Ricky Seals-Jones CLE TE Q Knee 5
James Conner PIT RB P Quad 10
Benjamin Snell PIT RB O Knee 4

Injuries to Monitor:

Cleveland — The Browns are surprisingly healthy on the offensive side of the ball. The only injury of note is Ricky Seals-Jones, who is listed as questionable. On the defensive side, safety Eric Murray and defensive end Olivier Vernon have both been ruled out.

Pittsburgh — The Steelers offense will be without Benny Snell, Ryan Switzer, and Roosevelt Nix, but James Conner will return to the lineup and is not expected to be limited. Top cornerback Joe Haden has an illness and is listed as questionable, while linebacker Anthony Chickillo is questionable with a rib injury.

Other News and Notes: We have a good old-fashioned cold-weather football game on tap tonight in Cleveland. It’s expected to be 32 degrees at kickoff with 10+ MPH wind throughout the game. The weather shouldn’t have a huge impact on the offenses, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the fantasy appeal of the defenses.

Matchup Factors, Team Identity Metrics, and Game Flow Expectations

Expected Game Pace and Tempo: This should be a slow-paced game and that’s clearly reflected in the total (41 points). The Steelers are ranked 18th or lower in seconds per play, situation-neutral pace, and plays per game. Meanwhile, the Steelers are ranked 24th in seconds per play and 30th in plays per game. With cold weather in store tonight, both teams could lean on the run, which would only lead to fewer plays for each offense.

Cleveland Browns Projections Breakdown

Team Projections

QB Team Rank Proj ProjAtt ProjYds
Baker Mayfield CLE 15.64 QB24 36.31 250.52
RB Team Rank Proj ProjRu% ProjTar%
Nick Chubb CLE 16.14 RB7 69% 9%
Kareem Hunt CLE 10.15 RB32 20% 13%
WR/TE Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar
Odell Beckham CLE 15.5 WR11 26% 9.83
Jarvis Landry CLE 13.48 WR21 24% 9.08
Rashard Higgins CLE 5.85 WR74 10% 3.78
Demetrius Harris CLE 3.98 TE35 7% 2.65
Ricky Seals-Jones CLE 2.92 TE42 5% 1.89

PIT Adj. Fpts Allowed: QB Rank 29/ RB Rank 27/ WR Rank 13/ TE Rank 7

Rushing Opportunity Metrics of Note:
Snap Share (Week 10): Chubb 81%, Hunt 54%
Rush Share (Week 10): Chubb 77%, Hunt 15%
Target Share (Week 10): Chubb 10%, Hunt 24%

Rushing Efficiency Metrics of Note:
O-Line Adjusted Line Yards: CLE 14th
D-Line Adjusted Line Yards: PIT 15th
DVOA against the run: PIT 11th

The Browns said Kareem Hunt would have a significant role right from the jump, but most expected him to take over the Dontrell Hilliard role. Nobody expected Hunt to play 54% of the snaps and see a 24% target share. While we can’t expect a second-string running back to see that many targets each week, Hunt and Nick Chubb shared the field on over 30% of the snaps. There could be room for both running backs to produce in this offense. This week’s matchup against the Steelers is mediocre at best, as they are ranked 15th in defensive adjusted line yards and 11th in DVOA against the run. The Browns offensive line has improved over the last month of play and is now ranked 14th in offensive adjusted line yards.

Given the cold weather and the poor play from Baker Mayfield, the Browns should lean on the run tonight. Based on what we’ve seen this season, that means Freddie Kitchens will air it out 45 times. Kidding aside, we have Chubb projected for a workhorse role (69% rush share with a 9% target share) and Chubb projected for a nice complementary role (20% rush share with a 13% target share). Targeting two running backs from the same team is not a strategy to employ in full slates, but it’s certainly viable in showdown when we can expect that team to lean on the run. You can play both Chubb and Hunt for a combined price of $16,400 on DraftKings and essentially get access to 25+ carries and close to 10 targets. With a lack of offensive firepower on this slate, Chubb is the odds-on favorite to be the captain of my main showdown lineup.

Passing Game Opportunity Metrics of Note:
Snap Share (L3 Games): Beckham 97%, Landry 93%, Higgins 29%, Harris 46%
Target Share (L3 Games): Beckham 23%, Landry 31%, Higgins 4%, Harris 8%
Air Yards Share (L3 Games): Beckham 48%, Landry 30%, Higgins 2%, Harris 11%

Passing Game Efficiency Metrics of Note:
DVOA against the pass: PIT 4th
DYAR: Mayfield -100 (29th)
QBR: Mayfield 44.9 (26th)

Every time I see Baker Mayfield, I can’t help but think of the picture of him in the press conference after Week 9’s loss to the Broncos. He had that thin mustache, the big trench coat, and an incredibly lost look on his face. Life comes at you fast when you play for the Browns. While Cleveland’s struggles are largely due to the play-calling of Freddie Kitchens, Mayfield has not played well. He’s ranked 29th in DYAR (-100) and 26th in total QBR (44.9) this season. Let’s not forget that he was a popular MVP pick before the start of the season. He has a very tough draw against the Steelers, who are ranked fourth in DVOA against the pass and second in adjusted sack rate. He’s cheap enough that he deserves consideration in showdown, but it’s clearly not a spot where we can play him with confidence.

Before the game against the Bills, the Browns came out and said they needed to force-feed Odell Beckham the ball. They certainly tried, as Mayfield threw his way 12 times. Unfortunately, Tre’Davious White won the matchup and held Beckham to five receptions for 52 yards. He has another tough draw this week, as he’ll run most of his routes against Steven Nelson and Joe Haden (questionable), who are both excellent cover corners. According to ProFootballFocus, they are both ranked in the top 25 for cornerbacks that have played at least 50% of the snaps this season. With all of that said, Beckham is incredibly talented and seeing a huge workload. Over the last three games, he has seen 48% of the air yards share. He likely won’t end up with a middling performance tonight, which makes him a great tournament play and a decent cash game fade.

It’s basically been a two-man show for the Browns in the passing game. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will get a fair share of dump-offs, but all of the targets thrown to wideouts go to Beckham or Jarvis Landry. Over the last three games, Landry has seen a 31% target share and a 30% air yards share. He’s basically had the same opportunity as Beckham all year and he’s considerably cheaper across the industry. He’s projected to run most of his routes against Mike Hilton, who isn’t nearly as strong of a coverage corner as Nelson or Haden. On a point-per-dollar basis, Landry stands out as the better option. We can typically look to a few salary savers in these showdown slates, but I want no part of Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, or Demetrius Harris.

Team Quick Summary: The Browns aren’t a team that does what we expect them to or even what they should do, but this game sets up better for the run than the pass. Mayfield has struggled all year and is facing one of the best pass defenses in football. The Steelers not only have a great secondary, but one of the best pass rushes. This is a rare spot to play two running backs from the same team — Chubb and Hunt. Beckham has a tough matchup, but will still see a fair share of opportunities. Landry is significant cheaper and has a better cornerback matchup.

Pittsburgh Steelers Projections Breakdown

Team Projections

QB Team Proj Rank ProjAtt ProjYds
Mason Rudolph PIT 15.11 QB25 35.14 221.08
RB Team Proj Rank ProjRu% ProjTar%
James Conner PIT 15.61 RB10 62% 13%
Jaylen Samuels PIT 8.29 RB36 23% 11%
WR/TE Team Proj Rank ProjTar% ProjTar
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 11.58 WR39 20% 7.32
Diontae Johnson PIT 8.39 WR57 16% 5.86
James Washington PIT 8.03 WR59 15% 5.49
Vance McDonald PIT 7.79 TE15 14% 5.12
Nick Vannett PIT 2.22 TE49 4% 1.46

CLE Adj. Fpts Allowed: QB Rank 10/ RB Rank 14/ WR Rank 17/ TE Rank 14

Rushing Opportunity Metrics of Note:
Snap Share (Weeks 1-5): Conner 63%, Samuels 34%
Rush Share (Weeks 1-5): Conner 64%, Samuels 23%
Target Share (Weeks 1-5): Conner 13%, Samuels 12%

Rushing Efficiency Metrics of Note:
O-Line Adjusted Line Yards: PIT 29th
D-Line Adjusted Line Yards: CLE 28th
DVOA against the run: CLE 22nd

James Conner is set to return from his shoulder injury and is not expected to be limited. This is the first time since Week 5 where both Jaylen Samuels and Conner are both going to be active. In the first five games, Conner played on 63% of the snaps, saw 64% of the rush attempts, and saw 13% of the targets. He was a borderline workhorse running back. Similar to the Browns situation, Samuels is expected to have a nice complementary role. In the first five games, he played on 34% of the snaps, saw 23% of the rush attempts, and saw 12% of the targets. The Steelers offensive line has created very little room to run for their backs (29th in offensive adjusted line yards), but you can beat the Browns on the ground. They are ranked 28th in defensive adjusted line yards and 22nd in DVOA against the run.

In an important cold-weather game on the road against a subpar run defense, the Steelers will likely try to lean on the run. Mason Rudolph hasn’t been terrible, but he’s best suited as a game manager at this point of his career. Additionally, his favorite targets have been running backs, which bodes well for both Conner and Samuels. We currently have Conner projected for 62% of the rush attempts with a 13% target share. This puts him in consideration as captain for showdown contests, especially if you like the Steelers in this game. Samuels is projected for 23% of the rush attempts with an 11% target share. The issue is that he’s priced as if he’s starting and he’s clearly going to be the number two behind Conner. At his price for showdown, Samuels is a deep tournament flier at best.

Passing Game Opportunity Metrics of Note:
Snap Share (L3 Games): Smith-Schuster 74%, Johnson 61%, Washington 46%, McDonald 85%
Target Share (L3 Games): Smith-Schuster 19%, Johnson 14%, Washington 16%, McDonald 17%
Air Yards Share (L3 Games): Smith-Schuster 29%, Johnson 15%, Washington 29%, McDonald 14%

Passing Game Efficiency Metrics of Note:
DVOA against the pass: CLE 19th
DYAR: Rudolph +70 (20th)
QBR: Rudolph 41.8 (28th)

Mason Rudolph hasn’t been extremely efficient this season, but he’s ranked ahead of Baker Mayfield in DYAR (+70) and total QBR (41.8). The big question is his upside — he has yet to score 18 fantasy points in any game so far this season. A quarterback with a low floor and a low ceiling is a tough sell, even in showdown contests. If you are building multiple tournament lineups, it makes sense to anchor a couple of them with Rudolph. With that said, I wouldn’t use him as a captain and wouldn’t mind fading him completely if you are only building one or two lineups. As for the matchup, the Browns are ranked 18th in DVOA against the pass and ninth in adjusted sack rate this season.

The Steelers have a fairly concentrated passing attack, but I worry about the volume. If they do lean on the running game and short passes to the running backs, there might not be much meat left on the bone. Over the last three weeks, Juju Smith-Schuster has led the way with a 19% target share, while James Washington has sneakily led the way with a 29% air yards share. In case you missed it earlier this season, the #ShowerNarrative is in play, as Rudolph and Washington played together at Oklahoma State. Diontae Johnson and Vance McDonald have also been involved over the last three games with target and air yards shares right around 15% each.

In terms of cornerback matchups, this sets up well for Smith-Schuster. He has lined up in the slot on 61% of the snaps this season, which means he’ll spend most of the night running routes against T.J. Carrie. While Carrie somehow managed to hold Cooper Kupp to zero catches last week, he has a much lower coverage grade than Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, who spend all of their time on the outside. Smith-Schuster is the top wideout to target in this offense, while Johnson and Washington can be added to your tournament player pool. The Browns have been mediocre against tight ends this season, but you’ll likely need a touchdown from McDonald to pay off his salary.

Team Quick Summary: Much like the Browns, I have more interest in the Steelers running game than their passing game. Cleveland has struggled against the run this season and we can project Conner to have a workhorse-like role tonight. Samuels is a sneaky leverage play in tournaments. While I’m not going out of my way to roster Rudolph, the matchup does set up well for Smith-Schuster. The Steelers have good cornerbacks on the outside, but Juju runs over 60% of his routes from the slot.

DFS Recommendations

Optimal DFS Plays: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Browns D/ST, James Conner, Steelers D/ST

Leverage Plays: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Juju Smith-Schuster

Secondary Plays: Baker Mayfield, Austin Seibert, Jaylen Samuels, Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Chris Boswell

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