Not a Patriots or Steelers fan in the least. But I like watching good NFL action, and this Sunday's game between New England and Pittsburgh I circled right when the schedule was released in late April. These looked to be the two best teams in the AFC with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, who have combined for six Super Bowl rings. The winner here would have a big upper hand for the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
That latter statement still will be true, but sadly Big Ben will miss at least this week with a knee injury suffered in Week 6. That's a huge break for New England, as this could have been its only game remaining as an underdog. I actually think the Pats would have been slight favorites considering how they looked last Sunday and how Pittsburgh did, but you get my point.
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I see no way the Patriots aren't the AFC's top seed now. They are the only one-loss team in the AFC. True, next week's game in Buffalo won't be easy. But the only other games on the schedule I give them a chance of losing are Week 10 at home vs. Seattle (which I doubt since the Pats are off their bye) and Week 15 in Denver.
The AFC North race is now wide open presuming a Steelers loss in this one and not knowing Big Ben's timetable. All four division teams lost in Week 6. Pittsburgh is up a game on Baltimore and two on Cincinnati, but surely the Bengals will win Sunday vs. Cleveland. The Steelers are still -250 favorites to win the North on BetOnline.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Story Lines
Could Brady actually win MVP honors playing just 12 games? He has looked absolutely fantastic in his two since returning from suspension. In last week's blowout win of the Bengals, Brady completed 82.9 percent of his passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns. His rating is absurd 135.5 in completing 76 percent for six scores and no picks in becoming the first in NFL history to reach those marks in a player's first two games of a season. I do think Brady knew about those deflated footballs, but it's pretty enjoyable watching him stick it to the NFL with his play. He also became the fourth member of the 5,000-completion club in that Cincinnati win. All three of New England's quarterbacks have yet to throw an interception through six games this season. That has happened only twice before, last in 2008 by the Redskins.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick cracks me up. He is so fed up with the NFL-allowed tablets not working properly on the sideline (in his mind) that he said this week that he's done using the technology and will stick with old-school pictures.
Roethlisberger was my pick to win his first NFL MVP this season, but that's probably out the window with him expected to miss this week and then at least Week 9 in Baltimore following Pittsburgh's bye week (new reports on Wednesday are indicating it could be 4-6 weeks). He had meniscus surgery on Monday, but it was the most minor kind. He basically played through the injury in Sunday's puzzling 30-15 loss in Miami in which Big Ben had his worst game of the year in throwing for only 189 yards with two picks. He will fail to play all 16 regular-season games for the 10th time in his 13 seasons.
So now it's Landry Jones' team. Good college QB at Oklahoma but not so much as a pro. I think it's fair to presume that Jones won't be throwing it 40 times as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had this to say about Jones this week: "A shootout is not the type of game we're looking for. We have to work to possess the ball on offense." In 2015 spot duty, Jones went 32-of-55 for 513 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He won a start vs. Arizona but lost one in Kansa City. Thus, expect plenty of Le'Veon Bell and No. 2 tailback DeAngelo Williams. New England's defense is stronger against the run (12th in the NFL, 552 yards) than the pass (22nd, 1,530 yards). If you have Antonio Brown on your fantasy team, his value is going to plummet for a while.
The Steelers will again be without defensive end Cam Heyward this week, while linebacker Ryan Shazier and receiver Markus Wheaton are in question.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New England is an 8-point favorite (+115) with a total of 45.5. On the moneyline, the Patriots are -320 and Steelers +260. On the alternate lines, the Pats are -7.5 (+110), -7 (-110) and -6.5 (-130). New England is 5-1 against the spread this season (2-0 on road) and 2-4 "over/under" (0-2 on road). Pittsburgh is 4-2 ATS (3-0 at home) and 2-4 O/U (1-2 at home).
The Patriots have covered just two of their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. They haven't covered their past four in Week 7. The Steelers are 4-0 ATS in their past four after a loss. They are 10-4 ATS in their past 14 at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The over is 10-3 in New England's past 13 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 8-2 in Pittsburgh's past 10. The underdog is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Prediction
These teams opened the 2015 season in Foxboro in the annual NFL Kickoff Game and New England won 28-21. Brady threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Rob Gronkowski. Roethlisberger threw for 351 with a touchdown and pick. Bell was out suspended for that one, with Williams rushing 21 times for 127 yards. Brown caught nine for 133 and a TD.
I would have taken the Steelers here with Roethlisberger, but there's just no way I can with Jones. Give the 6.5-point alternate line, however. I'm going over the total -- even though the Steelers will regress offensively -- because Brady is in a zone.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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