New England Patriots (5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2 SU, 3-4 ATS), 4:15 p.m. EST, Week 8 NFL, Sunday, October 30, 2011, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa., TV: CBS
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: N.E. -3/PIT +3
Over/Under Total: 51
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The showcase game in the AFC this weekend will be played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots travel to take on Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in a week eight NFL grudge match on CBS.
Both teams enter the game Sunday with five wins, the most in the AFC thus far, so the winner will get to ride in the drivers seat for the early part of the journey that will hopefully end with a playoff birth and home field advantage.
Pittsburgh reached the five-win plateau with a, 32-20, victory on the road in Arizona last weekend. Roethlisberger threw for 361 yards and three scores, including a franchise-record 95-yard bomb to Mike Wallace, as the Steelers played an overall decent game but left plenty of room for improvement.
New England meanwhile took last week off with their bye, giving them an ideal two-week window to game plan and rest up for their duel with the Steelers in the Steel City. The week before Brady rallied the Patriots to an exciting, 20-16, come from behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys when he found tight end Aaron Hernandez with the game-winning score with just 22 seconds left in the game.
Like the Steelers last week in the Arizona desert, the Patriots left plenty of room for adjustments and improvements following the Cowboys game, especially on offense, as the Cowboys got to Brady often sacking him three times and forcing two interceptions and two fumbles.
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With the Patriots-Steelers matchup being the feature game of the NFLs Sunday afternoon lineup, oddsmakers opened the contest with the visiting Patriots as slim 2.5-point favorites. While that point spread has held at some of the offshore sportsbooks on the Internet, a large majority of the other sports books online and in Las Vegas have moved the number up the hook to list New England as 3-point favorites.
The over/under total opened at 51.5 late on Sunday night and has seen its own share of line movement since, dropping to 51 at a large majority of online sportsbooks with a scant few dropping it down the full point to 50.5.
Offensively its hard to look past the Brady-Roethlisberger matchup when handicapping this game, but when all is said and done it might be the team that gets the running game going that wins this contest.
On paper Brady and the Patriots No. 1-ranked passing offense (350.5 ypg) would appear to have a big challenge on their hands this week, since the Steelers boast a fierce pass rush and the leagues No. 1-ranked pass defense allowing just 171.9 yards per game through the air.
But surprisingly, the Pats might be able to find gaps in the line since the Steelers run defense is allowing 107.1 yards a game, just the 12th best mark in the league. Plus, the Steelers are thin along the defensive line because both nose tackle Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke are listed as questionable nursing a sore neck and shoulder, respectively.
Roethlisberger has been called upon to throw it more often this season (265.4 ypg 9th) because Rashard Mendenhall and the running game has struggled with just a 117.9 yards per game average (14th). But since the Patriots have been used and abused in the passing game thus far, allowing a league high 322.2 yards a game in the air, the Steelers might flip the script and pass on early downs to set up the run in typical throwing situations.
New England beat the Steelers last year at Heinz Field, 39-26, in a mid-November game that featured over 700 yards of passing combined from Brady and Big Ben. It was the fourth win by the Patriots in the last five meetings between the two team, with the only Pittsburgh victory coming in 2008 when Brady was out with his torn knee (Matt Cassell was the QB in that 33-10 loss).
If you go back 10 games the Patriots dominance over the Steelers shows with a 7-3 SU record and an even better 8-2 ATS record at the betting window. Those numbers include a solid 5-2 SU mark on the road in Pittsburgh too, and an even better 6-1 ATS mark when the Pats have played at the old Riverfront and new Heinz Field venues on the road.
However, one of the more interesting betting trends for this game is that the underdog is a strong 9-2 ATS in the last 11 head-to-head meetings. The Steelers are also 6-1 ATS in their last seven games as a home dog, so not every trend points in the direction of Brady and the Pats.
As you would expect with these two top-line QBs playing in a showdown game, the over has a lot of strong betting trends pointing in its favor. The over is 7-1 in the last eight these two teams have played, but its also a perfect 5-0 in the last five playing in Pittsburgh. The over is also 17-4 in the Patriots last 21 games as a favorite, and its 7-2 in the Steelers last nine versus an AFC opponent.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I know 51 is a lot of points, but when you look at how well these two QBs are playing, and how bad the Pats pass defense is, its hard not to see this game turning into a shootout. Green Bay showed everyone that the best way to beat the Steelers was to make Troy Polamalu play pass defense and get him away from the line of scrimmage, and I believe the hooded one Bill Belichick and Brady will take the same approach. Im taking the over of 51 for this one.
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