New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Pick
New England Patriots (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, December 16th, 4:25 PM
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
By Mike Mann., NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -1/ PIT+1 (extra half points often found when using -105 bookies)
Over/Under Total: 52
Two reeling teams meet in Pittsburgh when the Patriots and Steelers battle it out Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. Both teams are coming off last second defeats and will be looking to recapture momentum as the playoff push intensifies.
New England has had the clear upper hand in the series over recent history. They have won five straight over the Steelers, which includes a 4-0-1 mark against the spread. The Patriots have done just as well as the visitor in the series, having gone 5-1 in their last 6 trips to Pittsburgh.
The Patriots are coming off their disastrous final play loss to the Dolphins. The entire game was a myriad of mistakes even before the ending, including constant defensive lapses that resulted in big plays, a missed field goal and extra point by Stephen Gostowski (sound familiar?) and another blown chance at field goal to end the first half. With the number one seed now essentially out of reach, New England will need to quickly recover if they want to keep the number two seed and a first round bye in their grasp.
Lost in his struggles on the final play was the great game that Rob Gronkowski was able to put up. This is a welcome sign for New England, as even a Gronk at 80 percent is better than most tight ends in the league and his matchup difficulties will only help those around him. Included in that group is Josh Gordon, who had just under 100 yards versus Miami and on a weekly basis has contributed since being acquired in a trade. Considering his effect on the field the Patriots would be wise to sign him in the offseason, especially with Gronkowski’s future with the team and in general in question after this year.
RUNNING INTO PROBLEMS
One unexpected issue for the Patriots against Miami was a disappointing running game. Sony Michel had just 57 yards on the ground, which has been an unfortunate trend of late as he has rushed for a combined total of 151 yards on 48 carries with no touchdowns in three of his last four games. Even more unexpected was the surprising avoidance of using James White against Miami, as he finished with only four carries and two receptions. Hopefully that trend quickly turns around, as the team seems to find more consistent success when White is used out of the backfield as he gives them two legit options of either rushing or receiving and despite his lack of use last week still leads the team in both receptions and touchdowns.
ISSUES OF THEIR OWN
The Steelers have issues of their own at the running back position, as James Conner remains questionable to play on Sunday after missing last week’s game due to injury. With Conner out a week ago, the team was able to rush for just 40 yards on 19 carries with Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley both unable to get anything going on the ground. With Bell not reporting and Conner the bell cow in his absence, they don’t have much else to rely on, which is even more evident considering that Ben Roethlisberger is the second leading rusher on the team.
Thankfully for Steeler fans they don’t have much to worry about at the receiver position with two of the best in the game on their team. Antonio Brown leads the NFL in touchdowns with 12, JuJu Smith-Schuster is third in the league in yards with 1,234 and they both rank in the top eight in receptions. They will miss Conner’s 52 receptions on the year coming out of the backfield, and if his absence continues it could lead to an expanded role for tight end Vance MacDonald as the team looks for a third option in the receiving game.
THE FINAL DECISION
With losses in three straight games the Steelers are desperate to get their season back on track as they are now locked in a battle with Baltimore for the AFC North lead. They now get to head back home to the friendly confines of Heinz Field, and face an opponent that they rank higher than in scoring, total offense, defensive rushing and passing and total yards allowed per game. Despite those factors in their favor, I am still undoubtedly backing the Patriots this week. Tom Brady is 11-2 in his career against Pittsburgh and time after time we have seen Mike Tomlin gets outcouched by Bill Belichick and it has gotten to the point where it’s become more fact than trend that one team owns the other.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England –1