Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Week 4 NFL, Sunday, October 2, 2011, Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas, TV: CBS
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Pit +4/HOU -4
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The defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers continue on their trek as the marked team in the AFC this Sunday when they take on a one-loss Houston Texans team itching to finally play their franchises statement game at home in Reliant Stadium.
The Steelers moved to 2-1 on the season with a less then aspiring victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday Night, 23-20. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball for 341 yards and a score, but the Steelers did lose three turnovers and overall they played down to the Colts level for most of the game. With two lackluster victories over Seattle and Indianapolis coming in back-to-back weeks, the big question on the minds of everyone around Pittsburgh is are the Steelers ready for a quality challenge?
Despite suffering their first loss of the season, in a 40-33 shootout at New Orleans, the Houston Texans will certainly offer the Steelers the type of challenge they havent faced since their opener at Baltimore. The Texans still had plenty of good signs in the Saints loss, like the stellar play of quarterback Matt Schaub (373 yards, 3 TD, INT) on offense, so with their confidence at an all-time high and the AFC South theirs for the taking the Texans are beginning to believe that this is their time.
The early bettors at the window are also showing some confidence in the Texans, driving the opening point spread of Houston as 3-point favorites at home all the way up to 4- or 4.5-points at a few offshore sportsbooks. Some of the early steam may be a reaction to the Steelers sleep-walk win at Indy and all of the points the Texans scored in their loss, so I wouldnt be surprised to see the number come back down before kickoff.
The over/under total opened at 45.5 and has gone the other way with its line movement, dropping down the hook to 45 at most of the sportsbooks on the Web.
With all of the offense these two teams put on the field its almost a surprise that the over/under total is dropping down during the week.
Schaub and the Texans are top-10 in just about every offensive category, including 5th in rushing (138 ypg), 7th in scoring (30 ppg) and 9th in total yards with a 400.7-yard average after three games. The Texans offense is so balance that not even an injury to running back Arian Foster is holding them back, as second-year back Ben Tate is plugged in the gap and the Texans just continue on their trip.
At first glance you would expect the Texans and Schaub to take a page out of the Packers Super-Bowl winning playbook and attack the Steelers via the pass (i.e. make Troy Polamalu play pass defense). But ironically, its the Steelers pass defense that has played strong over the first three weeks (allowing 164 ypg 1st), so maybe the Texans wont air it out over the top and in spread formations.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers still possess a potent attack on offense throwing the ball (294.7 ypg 8th), theyve just struggled with turnovers and getting the running game going in 2011. An average of just 85 yards rushing (23rd in NFL) is not Steelers football as weve grown accustomed too, so Pittsburgh will have to shore up its offensive line and get Rashard Mendenhall going for the offense to translate it into points and improve their 18 points per game average (26th).
Run defense is one area the Texans new 3-4 scheme on defense has helped to improve, but its still a work in progress (allow 105.7 ypg 17th) and by no means playing to its full potential. What the Texans defense has done a great job of so far in 2011 is limiting the big plays, which in turn has helped to put them in the top-10 in points allowed with a 20 per game average (9th).
Despite being in the AFC together, there are only three games in the short history between the Steelers and the Texans. The last time they played (Sept. 2008) the game ended in a 38-17 Steelers victory at Heinz Field. The last time they played in Houston was 2005, which also ended with the Steelers as victors, 27-7.
The only game the Texans have won versus the Steelers in the short series came back in 2002, a 24-6 win as 14-point underdogs. The Texans have been the underdogs in all three games, 5-point dogs at home in 05 and -6.5-point dogs in 08, so playing as the favorite is uncharted territory as far as the Texans as concerned.
The Steelers as underdogs has been a profitable wager in recent years, going 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games as a road dog. The under is also a solid trend bet when Pittsburgh is an underdog, going 14-6 in their last 20 games as a road dog.
But some of the strongest betting trends for this game are on the total, more specifically on the over. The over is 4-0 in Pittsburghs last four roadies, and 6-0 in the Steelers last six versus an AFC team. The over is also 23-6 in the Texans last 29 games versus a team with a winning record.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Mark me down as one of those bettors that think the Texans offense is going to struggle this week against the Steelers defense. The Steelers will also have trouble initially against a Texan defense that will be fired up and feeding off the crowd at kickoff. I like the Steelers as underdogs, but not enough to pull the trigger. Im playing for a defensive battle and the under of 45.
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