For the second straight season, the NFL brings us not just one but TWO matchups on Monday night. The first game of the double-header of divisional contests features an NFC South matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers. The later game is a clash from the AFC North as the Steelers host their rivals, the Cleveland Browns.
The two home teams in these games each lost last week and will hope to bounce back and avoid a 0-2 hole to start the season. The Panthers lost a close game to the Atlanta Falcons while the Steelers were embarrassed by the San Francisco 49ers. The Saints and the Browns each got nice wins last week and will hope to improve to 2-0. The Saints are three-point road favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Browns are two-point road favorites. The total for both games is under 40, but there are some strong fantasy options to consider even though the defenses are strong.
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Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, $6,400 — In Week 1, Watson had the highest total of the four QBs on this slate, and he’s facing the defense that gave up the most points to the opposing QB. Even with all the necessary “past performance is no guarantee of future success” disclaimers, there’s no need to get cute here — Watson has the highest ceiling of the QBs if you can make his salary work.
He completed 16-of-29 passes in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals for 154 passing yards and a passing touchdown while adding another rushing touchdown on the ground. His 21.66 DKFP is even more impressive when you consider that there was a rainstorm in Cleveland during the game and the weather bogged down both the Cleveland and Cincinnati offenses.
Watson should be able to build on that performance in this matchup against the Steelers, who gave up 220 yards, two touchdowns and 17.8 DKFP to Brock Purdy in Week 1. Pittsburgh does have a strong pass rush, but that could actually help Watson run more, which actually raises his ceiling even more.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns, $5,400 — Of the two cheaper QBs, Pickett is the better option based on his upside and the fact that he’s actually a little cheaper than Bryce Young ($5,600). Pickett threw two picks in Week 1 in a brutal matchup against the 49ers. He had to attempt 46 passes since the Steelers fell behind by multiple scores early but did finish with 232 passing yards, a touchdown and 11.68 DKFP.
Prior to his Week 1 loss, Pickett had a very strong preseason and seems to be further into his development than Young. He has more offensive options in the offense with him than Young, and both have tough matchups. If you can’t afford to build around Watson, Pickett can be a solid pivot, especially for GPPs where he’s expected to have lower ownership than Watson.
Nick Chubb, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns, $8,500 — The Browns and Steelers feature the top two RBs on this slate, with two of the few true feature backs in the NFL. Chubb had a much better Week 1 than Harris, outscoring his counterpart 19.7 DKFP to 5.3 DKFP. He topped 100 yards rushing in his first game of the season after reaching that plateau seven times last season. He had at least 90 yards in three of his final four games last year, producing over 15 DKFP in each of his three most recent contests dating back to last year. He faced the Steelers in Week 18 of last season and finished with 23.2 DKFP with over 100 rushing plus receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
Chubb still shared time in the backfield in Week 1 with Jerome Ford ($4,400), but Ford lost a fumble and only averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Chubb remains the superstar back and comes with all the upside in the Browns’ backfield. He comes at a high price but also has the highest ceiling of all the running backs by a wide margin.
Other Options – Najee Harris ($6,200), Jamaal Williams ($6,000)
Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints, $5,700 – Sanders is the top value RB on the board, especially with uncertainty in New Orleans. Jamaal Williams ($6,000) could end up being a good play if he gets all the work he did in Week 1, but rookie Kendre Miller ($4,400; hamstring) is questionable and could steal some of his workload and ceiling if active. As a result, it’s a much safer option to go with Sanders, who was a key part of the Panthers’ offense in Week 1 and should stay very involved to help continue to ease the transition of his rookie QB.
Sanders had 18 carries for a solid 72 yards in Week 1, but he was also very involved as a receiver, catching 4-of-6 targets for 26 yards. While Young will spread the ball around, it looks like Sanders is one of his top check-down choices after finishing as the team’s second-leading receiver last week. His role in the receiving game and reliable volume make him a great option under $6K in the backfield on Monday night.
Other Options – Jaylen Warren ($4,800), Kendre Miller ($4,400, if active)
George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns, $5,400 — Especially if you decide to pay up for stars in other slots, this spot looks to be the place to find the most value on Monday’s slate. There are several affordable players who will need to step into larger roles for their team due to injury. The Steelers already ruled out Diontae Johnson (hamstring), which leaves Pickens as clearly the most established option in the Steelers’ passing game. Pickens has already showcased that he has a great connection with Pickett, and the two second-year players are the key for the future of the Pittsburgh passing attack.
In Week 1, Pickens hauled in 5-of-7 targets for 36 yards. One of his most impressive plays actually came on one of the two targets he didn’t catch. He made an acrobatic grab along the sideline for a would-be touchdown but just couldn’t quite get his feet in bounds. Pickens was targeted twice in the Red Zone and should remain the go-to option for Pickett all over the field.
Pickens brings elite athleticism, a huge catch radius and breakaway speed to turn any play into a huge gain. Those factors give him a high ceiling even though he is still a little raw and unrefined at times. As a play under $6K, though, his volume should be enough to make him one of the best values available.
Other Option – Chris Olave ($7,200)
Elijah Moore, Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, $4,500 – The Browns’ WR corps could also be missing a key piece since Amari Cooper ($6,100; groin) is questionable. Cooper’s injury just happened on Saturday in practice, and according to reports from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he’s “considered unlikely to play.” In Week 1, Cooper tied for the team lead in targets with Moore, who led the team with 43 yards receiving. Without Cooper, Moore should be the top wide receiver by a significant margin with extra work for Donovan Peoples-Jones ($3,700) and Marquise Goodwin ($3,000) as well.
Moore brings the most upside of the group and could be on the verge of breaking through as a productive fantasy play. He was drafted in the second round in 2021 before spending two disappointing seasons with the Jets. He was traded to the Browns in March and will look to build on his strong debut from last week. While he’s not the freaky athlete that Pickens is, he definitely has the speed and breakaway potential to provide a high ceiling and should be poised to produce excellent value. Of all the players on this slate, Moore is my top “must-own” based on his expected volume and upside at this price.
Other Options – Allen Robinson II ($4,300), Rashid Shaheed ($4,200), Calvin Austin III ($3,500)
David Njoku, Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, $4,700 – Njoku will also likely help pick up some of the slack if Cooper is out. He only had two catches for 24 yards in the opener but did play 73% of the team’s offensive snaps.
Njoku found the end zone in each of his two games against the Steelers last season. In Week 3, he had nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and he finished the season with four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown in Week 18 in his most recent trip to Pittsburgh. He’ll be one of Watson’s top targets on Monday and is a great top TE to consider if you have the salary available.
Hayden Hurst, Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints, $4,000 – Hurst is the cheapest starting tight end available on this slate, but he actually had the most DKFP of the available options at the position in Week 1. While that’s a small sample size, for sure, the fact that he got so much attention from Bryce Young is a good indication that he’s one of the rookie’s go-to options. Hurst led the team with five catches and 41 receiving yards on a team-high seven targets. He also caught the only Panthers’ TD in Week 1. His 24.1% target share will likely dip as the season goes on, but getting this kind of expected volume at $4K is a great way to go at TE.
Other Options – Juwan Johnson ($4,100), Harrison Bryant ($2,900)
Saints D/ST at Carolina Panthers, $3,700 – The Saints had the best defensive output of these four teams in Week 1 with 10 DKFP against the Tennessee Titans. They have one of the best matchups of the night against Bryce Young. Young was understandably inconsistent in his NFL debut and led his team to just 10 points in a loss to the Falcons, who had two sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Against Ryan Tannehill in Week 1, the Saints had three sacks and three picks while only allowing 15 points.
Browns D/ST at Pittsburgh Steelers, $3,300 – How much of Week 1’s impressive showing was the rain? Is the Steelers’ offense really as bad as they looked in Week 1? We’ll get the answers to those questions in this matchup Monday. The Browns DST definitely has the playmakers led by Myles Garrett to be a fantasy beast, but their secondary has been inconsistent. The Steelers allowed the third-most DKFP to an opposing DST in Week 1, but that was the 49ers, who are expected to be a top-tier unit. While I don’t like the Browns DST quite as much as the Saints DST, they are an excellent alternative if you need the salary elsewhere.
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