No Hines Ward for the Pittsburgh Steelers may mean a bigger day for two of the talented wide receivers we liked in the fantasy preseason and hoped we would have heard more from by now -- Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
And their potential emergence as consistent receivers could not have come at a more perfect time as the Steelers draw the New England Patriots in Week 8.
Ward is looking doubtful to play in Sunday’s game after injuring his ankle in Week 7. Sanders would start in his place and Brown’s role would grow even more than it has.
Brown has been quite a favorite of QB Ben Roethlisberger this season. He is second behind Pittsburgh’s No. 1 WR, Mike Wallace, in targets, receptions and yards. Brown has 48 targets, 25 catches for 364 yards. Sanders has 27 targets, 13 catches for 173 yards and two scores. Wallace leads the way with 51 targets, 36 catches for 730 yards and five scores.
Brown has received eight-plus targets four times, including his best week of the season against Arizona last Sunday. He was targeted nine times, catching seven balls for 102 yards. Sanders received his highest target total of the season last week against Arizona and it produced his best week so far (5-46 and a TD).
Roethlisberger bounced back from a poor outing against Jacksonville by throwing for 361 and three scores against the Cardinals. He has thrown for eight touchdowns and just one interception in the last three games after throwing for three scores and five picks in the first four games.
Chances for a shootout this week are high.
The Patriots are last in the NFL in pass defense (322.2 YPG, which is 33.3 yards ahead of the next team), are giving up the fourth most points to fantasy quarterbacks and the most points allowed to fantasy receivers per game. However, New England is 11th best against fantasy running backs. The Pats also possess the best passing offense in the NFL and the Steelers are ninth. The Steelers do have the No. 2 pass defense in the league (171.9), but Tom Brady has had plenty of success against them in the past.
If you had given up on Brown or Sanders over the past few weeks, that is understandable. They have not necessarily been the most dependent. But the combination of Ward probably missing the game, the hot streak Roethlisberger has been on and the fact the Steelers are playing the Patriots’ defense makes this too appealing a match up to not have either of them on and active on your fantasy roster for Week 8.
By Corby Yarbrough, @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter