Thursday Night Football Fantasy Starters: Big Ben, Joe Flacco And Steve Smith

By Steve Silverman

Whenever the Steelers and Ravens get together, they always play a tough, brutal game that seems to have more meaning than just the final score.

While some old-school rivalries like Bears-Packers and Raiders-Chiefs seem to have waned in importance, the Steelers-Ravens rivalry is alive and vicious.

Obviously, each game these two AFC North rivals have has a lot of meaning as far as the standings are concerned, but there is a genuine hatred between the two teams.

However, the first meeting of the 2014 season has been overshadowed by the Ray Rice controversy. Instead of concentrating on the Steelers, the Ravens organization has been consumed by the video of Rice that surfaced Monday morning and led to his release by the Ravens.

The players can say anything they want about focusing in on their opponents, but that’s just hyperbole. Rice’s vicious assault on his then-fiancée ( and current wife) has thrown the national problem of domestic violence into even greater focus, and it seems almost certain to have an impact on Baltimore’s preparation for this game.

Nevertheless, we look at this game from a fantasy football perspective and consider the players from both sides that should be placed in the lineup or benched.

Steelers players

QB Ben Roethlisberger — The Steelers go into every game at Baltimore knowing they will get the Ravens at their best, but this game could be different. In addition to the Rice controversy, the Ravens lost their opener at home to Cincinnati, and that means they are vulnerable. Roethlisberger is going to try to attack early by going over the top of the defense. Roethlisberger had a 3-0 TD-interception ratio in two games vs. the Ravens this year, and he will throw at least two TDs in this game. PLAY HIM

RB Le’Veon Bell – Bell had 109 yards last week against the Browns, and he is loaded with confidence. But the Ravens defense is not likely to give up big plays on the ground. Don’t look for Bell to gain more than 60 yards. BENCH HIM

WR Antonio Brown – Brown came into his own last year for the Steelers, and he should be even better this year. Roethlisberger targeted him six times last week and Brown caught five of those passes for 118 yards and a score. Brown had two ordinary games vs. the Steelers last year – 11-109-0 – and he will be looking to make up for it here. PLAY HIM

Ravens players

QB Joe Flacco – The Ravens may feel some sense of relief by the time this game kicks off, because they won’t have to answer questions about Rice for three hours. Flacco was forced to throw the ball 62 times in the opener against Cincinnati, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him throw it 45 times or more in this game. The strong-armed Flacco will throw for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns. PLAY HIM

RB Bernard Pierce – Pierce is the beneficiary of the Rice fiasco, as he is the Ravens’ top running back. However, if he doesn’t pick up the pace, he could lose his job to Justin Forsett. Pierce may run for more than the 14 yards he had against Cincinnati, but he is not an impact player.. BENCH HIM

WR Steve Smith – Smith has been an impact player throughout his career, and he demonstrated his importance to the Ravens when he caught 7-118-1, including an 80-yard scoring pass. Smith is a dynamic fantasy player because he leaves it all on the field each week. PLAY HIM

TE Dennis Pitta – The Ravens like to get the ball to Pitta, and he can be a key factor on third downs and in goal line situations (7 TDs in 2012). However, he caught just two passes vs. Pittsburgh that year, and they won’t give him anything in this game. BENCH HIM

***

Steve Silverman has been writing, talking about and playing fantasy football since the early 1990s. He co-hosted Fantasy Football Weekly, the first Fantasy Football television program, in 1994 and ’95. Follow Steve on Twitter @profootballboy.

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