New England Patriots (5-1 SU, 5-1 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2 SU, 4-2 ATS)
NFL Week 7
Date/Time: Sunday October 23rd at 4:25PM EST
Where: Heinz Field
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE-7 / PITT+7
Over/Under Total: 45.5
The New England Patriots travel to Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a matchup of two AFC division leaders that is sure to have major playoff implications at seasonís end. The Steelers initially dominated the series against the Patriots, winning 12 of the first 16 games between the teams, but have struggled in recent years, going just 3-9 in their last 12 against New England, including a disappointing 2-5 record at home.
The luster of the late Sunday afternoon marquee matchup took a bit of a hit when it was announced that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would miss the game after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee suffered in Sundayís disappointing 30-15 loss to Miami. Taking his place behind center will be fourth-year quarterback Landry Jones, who has played mediocre in limited duty when filling in for Roethlisberger through his NFL tenure, completing 55% of his passes while throwing three touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Some in the Pittsburgh area where calling for third stringer Zack Mettenberger to start, but considering his teams have a 0-14 record in games when he was attempted a pass, itís easy to understand why they are rolling the dice with the former Oklahoma Sooner Jones over the victory deprived Mettenberger.
One confusing thing said by Roethlisberger after the game, especially considering who their opponent is this week, was when he stated ďwe donít make excusesĒ when talking about their upset loss against Miami. This quote was particular peculiar considering the excuse fest that came out from all over the Steeler organization after they lost 28-21 to the Patriots last season in Foxboro, including from Roethlisberger himself. The bathroom conduct challenged Ben took umbrage with the fact the Patriots dared to shift their players on the defensive line before the ball was snapped, complaining about a supposed unwritten rule where such line shifting is frowned upon, when in reality the only actual rule is that you canít cross the line of scrimmage or mess with the quarterbackís cadence. This mystical unwritten rule anomaly though took a backseat to head coach Mike Tomlinís tantrum regarding his headset not working in the first quarter of the game, something he cried conspiracy about in his postgame press conference, a theory that was later furthered by the official Pittsburgh Steeler website. You would think one of the most historic franchises in NFL history would have a better understanding of basic gameday procedure and know that it is the league itself that has FULL control over the in game communications, but I guess when one team clearly has your number it canít be poor coaching and lack of execution that causes your downfall, it must be a grassy knoll type scheme of subversion and subterfuge instead.
With Roethlisberger out the Steelers offense will rely heavily on its two other stars, running back LeíVeon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. After missing the first three games due to suspension, Bell has picked up right where he left off last season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry while rushing for 263 yards and also contributing 20 receptions for 177 yards through the air, though unfortunately for LeíVeon he has also kept his late season scoring drought intact, as he has gone three straight without a touchdown after ending last year scoreless in his final three games. Brown is considered by most to be the at his position and is the current NFL leader in targets with 56 while also tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 5 and will likely get many a look from new starter Landry Jones if/when things start to breakdown in the pocket. Though both Bell and Brown are the clear offensive focal point, the team still has numerous other options for Jones to throw to with a total of nine players having caught touchdowns on the year thus far, including two second year breakouts in the making, wide receiver Sammie Coates and tight end Jesse James.
One surprising area of concern for the Steelers is their defense, which has struggled with consistency this season and is putting up statistics far uncharacteristic to how they usually perform. They currently rank 28th in total defense, 30th in passing, tied for 28th in sacks, 22nd in interceptions and last in touchdowns with zero. With their offense at a severe disadvantage due to the injury to Roethlisberger, the defense will need to play at a higher level for the full 60 minutes against the high flying Patriots, who since their quarterback returned two weeks ago have been firing on all cylinders.
Tom Brady continued to dominate in his first game back in Foxboro, as the Patriots defeated the Bengals 35-17 to extend their record to 5-1 on the season, both in the standings and against the spread. It was their second game in a row scoring over 30 points and was also the first time in nearly two seasons that Brady passed for over 300 yards in back-to-back games. Through two games thus far he has completed 76% of his passes for 782 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions and now draws a Steelers team that he was found great success against throughout his career. In eight games Brady has amounted a 6-2 record vs. Pittsburgh, thrown for 22 touchdowns compared to only 3 interceptions(the last of which happened over a decade ago), all the while putting up his second highest passer rating against any NFL team in his career with a 113.4 QBR.
Another Patriot who has done exceedingly well against the Steelers is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who last week celebrated Bradyís homecoming with seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in their battle with the Bengals. In his four career games vs. the Steelers, Gronk has put up the following numbers:
While the Steelers defense has struggled this year they have allowed only one score to a tight end all season, and a major factor in Sundayís game will be how they matchup not only Gronkowski, but also his fellow tight end Martellus Bennett, who currently leads all tight ends in touchdowns, is second in yards and is second amongst all NFL players in yards after contact.
While the rivalry between the Patriots and Steelers isnít as historic as the ones they have with certain divisional foes, this is still a matchup of two teams that carries a great deal of anger and animosity amongst not only the players, but also the organizations, coaches and fans alike. Even with the Roethlisberger out for the game it would still be a surprise if this game didnít come down to the fourth quarter, but in the end you can count on Brady and the Patriots to continue their point scoring proficiency and recent dominance over the Steelers and come away with a win and cover on the road in Pittsburgh.
Mike Mís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -7
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