New England Patriots
(6-2, 4-3-1 ATS)
(6-2, 5-3 ATS)
In what should be the top game of the weekend, a pair of teams that share the best record in the NFL this year lock horns at Heinz Field, as the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the New England Patriots.
The Pats are coming off of one of the worst losses they have suffered in the QB Tom Brady era, a 34-14 beating at the hands of the Cleveland Browns on the road. New England looked absolutely lifeless and like a team that had no interest of being there in spite of the fact that it was the only 6-1 team in the league coming in. Brady had a nice first half of the campaign, throwing for 1,826 yards and 14 TDs versus four INTs this year, but things just don’t totally feel right with this offense. RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead don’t really spark fear in the competition, while WR Wes Welker, TE Aaron Hernandez, and WR Brandon Tate aren’t really the same types of receivers that he is used to working with. The defense just doesn’t seem up to snuff either, especially after giving up 184 rushing yards to RB Peyton Hillis last week. Now, we love Hillis, but this isn’t the same thing as giving up 180 yards to RB Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. Things need to change and change in a hurry, or the best teams on the slate are going to pick New England off, and it might be in danger of missing the postseason.
It’s hard to argue about the two games that the Steelers have lost this year, as their games against the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens were the toughest on the schedule all season long. The defense that is normally absolutely stellar has looked mortal in recent weeks, as a three game road trip yielded 22, 20, and 21 points against respectively. Though these numbers certainly aren’t “bad” by league standards, this is certainly newsworthy for a squad that only averaged allowing 12.0 points per game in its first five. QB Ben Roethlisberger might be a 3,000 yard passer after all this year. He threw for 917 yards in his first four games back in the saddle as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, and he has six TDs against just three INTs. He has used WR Mike Wallace as a tremendous deep threat. Though he only has 22 receptions, no man in the NFL is averaging more yards per catch than Wallace at 23.0. RB Rashard Mendenhall has been fantastic as well, as he has 702 yards and seven TDs this year.
We know that this is the Steel City, where opposing teams usually come to die, but this is a totally different type of challenge. Was New England sandbagging it just a little bit last week in Cleveland? Probably, at least just a tad, particularly after the game got out of reach. It never really seems like HC Bill Belichick has the right answers to the Steelers, but he always seems to pull them out of his hat when it really counts. This week should be no exception.
Pro Football Free Pick: New England Patriots +4.5