Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New Orleans Saints Pick
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1 SU, 7-6-1 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (12-2 SU, 10-4 ATS)
NFL Football Week 16
Date and Time: December 23 at 4:25pm ET
Where: Mercedes Benz Superdome
By Ted Walker, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PIT+5.5/NO -5.5
Over/Under Total: 53.5 (See our over under play on this game)
NFL fans are rather blessed this season with plenty of solid matchups taking place late in the season. Week 16 happens to be one of the more meaningful weeks in any season with the last playoff dominoes often falling and 2018’s Week 16 has some very high profile games. One of those takes place in The Big Easy as the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the New Orleans Saints with a lot on the line. Both teams are Super Bowl hopefuls and this game has a bit of that “Big Game” feel as these foes do not regularly face-off with just one meeting in the last eight years. 2014 saw the Saints claim a W in Pittsburgh in a 35-32 shootout that featured a combined 692 passing yards and seven touchdown passes. Both offenses enter the week inside the top-7 in the league so another fast paced game is possible although both teams have also showed the ability to limit opponents with their heavy-hitting defenses. Regardless of the game script, this one is a legit heavyweight matchup and should be a fun one to watch.
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There are few teams that could lose a Pro Bowl level running back and actually improve their offensive output but the Steelers have not only survived the Le’Veon Bell absence but found their future bellcow in the process. James Conner has rushed for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions but he is questionable for Sunday with a high ankle sprain. Conner has missed the last two contests but that hasn’t slowed Pittsburgh much as Jaylen Samuels has 170 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards in relief. New Orleans sports the league’s best rush defense but the Steelers are going to test the Saints with their running backs either on the ground or as pass catchers. Ben Roethlisberger has Pittsburgh 3rd in passing at 311 yards per game and he probably has the best 1-2 wide receiver punch in the league. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown are both north of 90 catches and 1,100 yards with 19 touchdown catches combined. Add in six scores from tight ends like Vance McDonald and Jesse James and you quickly see that the Steelers have the ability to score in many ways. Pittsburgh is 5th in scoring at 27.4 points per game and brings many of the same challenges that the Rams did and New Orleans allowed 35 points to LA earlier in the year.
Anything You Can Do…
One of the few offenses that can keep pace with Pittsburgh is New Orleans and they are nearly legendary in the SuperDome. The Saints are more balanced than most teams, ranking 11th in passing and 8th in rushing on their way to 32.8 points per game which is 2nd in the league. Drew Brees is completing 75% of his passes and while he is throwing for fewer yards than Big Ben, he has also thrown ten fewer interceptions. Brees is also posting an absurd 116.8 passer rating, which currently ranks 6th all-time in that category. While Pittsburgh has an edge in quality, New Orleans has the quantity advantage when it comes to play makers on offense. Thirteen different Saints have caught a touchdown pass from Brees this season with ten catching just one or two. Opponents rarely know who is going to be the guy to step up each game and that has part of the Payton/Brees magic. Michael Thomas (109/1267/8) is the obvious main threat at WR but this offense uses the backs as well as anyone as well. Alvin Kamara has rushed for 860 yards and 12 scores but is also second on the team with 77 receptions. Mark Ingram (582 rush/5 TD) brings the power on the ground and he is a closer when New Orleans has the lead in the second half. The Saints commitment to the run and Brees’ high completion rate help NO rank 2nd in time of possession. Pittsburgh is a top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed but they slip to the middle of the pack in points, giving up 22.6 per game. Chances are, both teams will be moving the ball and putting points up and Vegas is thinking the same thing with over/under totals hovering around 54.
If we anticipate a near even match where the offenses are considered, the game may go to the defense that can make the key play to swing the momentum. Both teams are expert at keeping their QBs upright with Pittsburgh allowing 20 sacks and New Orleans just 16. The Saints ability to keep Brees clean may take a hit as starting LT Jermon Bushrod is questionable with a bad hamstring. His absence could mean an edge for a Steelers D that is 2nd in sacks. Three Pittsburgh defenders have at least six sacks with T.J. Watt leading the way at eleven. If they can get Brees off his game, even just enough to produce incompletions, the Saints will likely face tougher third down chances than they are accustomed to. New Orleans have a sack-man themselves with Cameron Jordan notching twelve to enter the week but getting Big Ben on the ground is still one of the toughest feats in the game.
Pittsburgh appeared as if they literally forgot how to win during a three game losing streak that included an improbable loss at Oakland where they bumbled the game despite many chances to pull it out. Holding down the Pats last week was a turning point however and I think that will spur Pittsburgh to another good effort in this one. They don’t have much of a chance considering Baltimore has pulled even with them in the win column. I am not confident enough to call for the upset as New Orleans is just so good at home but I do like Pittsburgh to stay with the Saints all afternoon. Look for another game like the one they played in 2014. Perhaps there is a little less scoring this time around as both defenses have shown they can handle their own but a 30-27 New Orleans win seems about right. I like Pittsburgh with the 5.5 as a result.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Pittsburgh