Carolina Panthers (2-12, 4-10 ATS) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4, 8-6 ATS) NFL Week 16, Thursday December 23rd, 8:20PM Eastern Heinz Field Pittsburgh, P.A.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Car +14/PIT -14
Over/Under Total: 37
The Carolina Panthers scored their 2nd win of the season with a 19-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week. However thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals ending a 10 game losing streak, the Panthers still own the worse record in the NFL at 2-12. If Panthers fans are hoping for a possible number 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, those chances may remain very high considering the Panthers will have to go on the road to Pittsburgh this Thursday night in attempt to capture just their 3rd win over the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are among the top teams in the AFC and they also clinched a playoff spot last week despite losing to the New York Jets 22-17. The Steelers are currently tied for 1st with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North at 10-4, but Pittsburgh holds the edge in a tie breaker scenario. Therefore, it is important the Steelers win out to take down the division crown. Last week, the Pittsburgh offense moved the ball well against one of the best defenses in the NFL to give the offense some confidence to close the season strong. The Steelers managed 378 total yards against the Jets. Unfortunately the production did not lead to an abundance of points, but the Steelers still appear to be a team to be reckoned with in the postseason.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall had a very solid outing against the Jets with 17 carries resulting in 100 yards and a touchdown. Mendenhall has been a solid contributor on offense this season totaling 1,173 yards on the season. However, the offense has still been most effective in the passing game behind QB Ben Roethlisberger. Despite completing just a bit over 50% passing last week, Roethlisberger still posted 264 passing yards and made some big plays in critical situations.
Roethlisberger has played extremely well in recent weeks averaging 280 yards over the last 6 games while throwing just 1 interception during that stretch. In addition to Roethlisberger’s strong play, the passing game has also found a lot of success which can be credited to the emergence of WR Mike Wallace. Wallace caught 7 passes for 102 yards against the Jets last week while eclipsing the 1,000 yard barrier on the season. If the Steelers offense can maintain that type of balance with the run and the pass, they will be extremely difficult to beat in the postseason if you also consider how well their dynamic defense is playing as well.
In fact, the Steelers defense will have a chance to flex their muscle this week against a Carolina Panthers offense that has been simply embarrassing for the majority of the season. The Panthers rank dead last in total yards (266ypg) and scoring averaging a miserable 13.1 points per game. Without a doubt, the biggest problem the Panthers have faced this season has been the play of their quarterbacks. The Panthers passing game also ranks dead last in the NFL averaging just 149 yards per game. Not to mention the offense has also given the ball up 33 times to add to those troubles, but all of those troubles have surrounding the inability to move the football through the air.
QB Jimmy Clausen has been the starter in recent weeks, but has completed just 52% passing with 2 touchdowns compared to 7 interceptions. Clausen has not developed into the promising young talent that Panthers had hopes with last year’s first pick in the NFL Draft. Instead Clausen has resembled a regular rookie that is far from ready to take control of an NFL offense. If not for the passing troubles, the Panthers actually have a steady ground attack behind running back Jonathan Stewart.
Despite missing a few games earlier this year, Stewart has posted back to back performances of 130 plus yards rushing. However, the Panthers will still have to find a way to make some plays in the air to keep the Steelers defense from teeing off on the run. For the Panthers to put themselves into contention, they must make some big plays and consistently move the football. However, Carolina has not been able to move the football all season. Therefore, moving the football against the Steelers defense reminds me a movie entitled “Mission Impossible.”
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Panthers had a ton of opportunities last week to post a big scoring number against Arizona. The Panthers came away with a few turnovers and big plays from the special teams that kept them on the Arizona side of the field. However, the Panthers were still horrendous on their opponent’s side of the field consistently stalling on offense without sustaining any long drives down the field. The Pittsburgh defense will be a nightmare for the Panthers one dimensional offense and I believe they will keep them out the end zone the entire game. Expect a convincing win out of Pittsburgh as the Steelers cruise to the 11 win mark. Take Pittsburgh -14.