Consensus line: Steelers -6.5, total 44
Best line for PIT: Steelers -6, -105 (Bet365)
Best line for TEN: Titans +6.5, -105 (5Dimes)
Current betting percentage: 82% action on the Steelers, 51% action on the OVER
Individual Team Trends:
Steelers are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games following a ATS loss.
Steelers are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 road games.
Titans are 20-8 ATS in their last 28 games after scoring less than 15 points in their previous game.
Titans are 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 games overall.
Over is 19-7 in Steelers last 26 games after allowing less than 250 total yards in their previous game.
Over is 9-4 in Steelers last 13 road games.
Under is 5-1-1 in Titans last 7 home games.
Underdog is 6-2 ATS in their last 8 meetings.
The general consensus amongst most people is that the Titans are in for a long Thursday night against the Steelers. That would seem to make sense considering that Tennessee isn’t particularly good at anything. The Titans rank 26th in total offense, 29th in total defense, and their four losses have come by at least three touchdowns. For the untrained eye, this seems like it has blowout written all over it. But to me, this has upset written all over it.
The Steelers enter tonight’s contest missing two of their key defenders, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley. Since 2009, the Steelers are just 7-8 straight up without Polamalu in their lineup. Polamalu is simply a game changer and his absence from the field hurts Pittsburgh in both run defense and pass defense. If you look at last week’s contest against the Eagles, the Steelers’ defense was in full control of the Eagles’ offense until Polamalu left the game due to injury.
Normally Polamalu’s absence alone would be a huge blow, but the injury to Woodley makes things so much worse. Woodley has averaged slightly better than 10 sacks per season since 2008 and his pass rushing ability will undoubtedly be missed. Fellow outside linebacker James Harrison is nowhere near 100% as he’s nursing a knee injury right now, so it’s hard to imagine the Steelers’ defense generating any pressure whatsoever. The Titans’ offensive line has allowed only eight quarterback sacks through five games this season which means that Matt Hasselbeck should be comfortable in the pocket all night.
Hasselbeck didn’t look very good against the Vikings last week. The former Boston College standout still makes great decisions in the pocket, but it’s clear that he’s lacking the arm strength to make the throws that he was once accustomed to making. Hasselbeck will benefit greatly from Kenny Britt’s return to the lineup as the Steelers will likely have Ike Taylor playing man-to-man on Britt all night, allowing for Nate Washington and Kendall Wright to work against a pair of weak corners in Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen. I’d expect Hasselbeck to work a lot of short crossing routes and actually be able to move the ball pretty consistently without facing any threat of a pass rush.
Chris Johnson has essentially been useless in four of five games this season. It’s pretty shocking that he was actually able to put up yardage against a stout front seven of the Texans. Even with Polamalu absent from the Steelers’ lineup, I doubt Johnson will be effective running the ball against a Pittsburgh defense that gives up less than 100 yards per game on the ground. However, I do think that Johnson can be extremely effective in the short passing game against a Steelers’ front seven that is severely lacking speed right now. If things work out early for the Titans, their passing game may be able to open up some running lanes for Johnson later in the game…maybe.
On the other side of things, Pittsburgh should be able to move the ball relatively easily against a porous Titans’ defense. Tennessee’s defense has been brutal this season but I’m not willing to completely write them off just yet. The Titans were without stud inside linebacker Colin McCarthy for Weeks 2 to 4, and while he didn’t play a big role in his return from injury last week, his mere presence on the field gives the Titans a much better defense.
McCarthy had 63 total tackles in his final eight games last season, forcing a pair of fumbles and intercepting a pass in that span. Despite the fact that he’s a young player, he looks like a veteran out on the field and seems to understand the intricacies of opposing defenses. With McCarthy finally healthy and with an amazing run stopper in Jurell Casey manning the defensive line for the Titans, I wouldn’t expect Rashard Mendenhall to replicate the success he had against the Eagles last week.
Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, should have no problems torching the Titans’ secondary. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are one of the worst starting cornerback duos in the league and will undoubtedly have their hands full with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. McCourty and Verner don’t really have any safety help either as former first round pick Michael Griffin has been regressing since his rookie season, while Jordan Babineaux doesn’t have the step that he once did. The Titans’ defense has only generated seven sacks this season, while the Steelers’ offensive line has only surrendered only one sack in their last two games, so it’s likely that Big Ben will have a lot of time in the pocket to make throws downfield.
I think the Titans’ best chance of winning this game (or keeping it close) is to generate some turnovers defensively. In the last three seasons, Big Ben has turned the ball over only 8 times in 15 home starts but 20 times in 16 road starts. That’s a big discrepancy and is one of the primary reasons that the Steelers have struggled on the road in recent years, and in recent weeks. If Tennessee can force Roethlisberger into a couple of mistakes and give their offense some short fields to work with, they’re definitely capable of pulling the upset here.
The Steelers have given up 65 total points in two road losses to Denver and Oakland. That’s pretty incredible when you consider that they’ve only given up 24 points at home in two contests. It’s even more incredible when you consider that the Raiders would have trouble moving the ball against most high school defenses. There’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is a different team away from home than they are at the confines of Heinz Field. The Steelers are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 road games and a terrible 5-16-1 ATS in their last 22 road games against a team with a losing home record. It doesn’t help that they have to travel on a short week either.
Even the worst NFL teams rarely get blown out in three consecutive games, and I’m fully expecting a motivated effort from Mike Munchak’s squad tonight. The Titans are 1-1 at home this season as opposed to 0-3 on the road, so they’ll look at this game as a spot to turn their season around.
Prediction: Titans 27, Steelers 24
Recommendation: I like the Titans +6.5 here. I also have a slight lean to the OVER. It’s always dangerous when you consider betting on a terrible team, and there’s definitely the possibility that Tennessee gets blown out tonight, but too many people are looking at Pittsburgh as free money tonight. Home dogs have been the way to go in the NFL this season so I’ll continue to ride that trend. Good luck.