The NFL’s "Game of the Week" is an absolute no-brainer in Week 8, when New England (5-1) hosts Pittsburgh (5-2) in what could be an AFC Championship Game preview. The result of this game could also be the deciding tiebreaker on whether the Patriots or Steelers would host that game against each other.
Actually, this is the only game on the Week 8 NFL schedule that pits two teams with winning records—New England and Pittsburgh also are the only AFC clubs with five wins.
Pittsburgh won its third game in a row last week and played its best road game of the year, beating the sad-sack Cardinals, 32-20. Ben Roethlisberger had his best game in a while, going 26-for-39 for 361 yards and three touchdowns, including a team-record 95-yarder to Mike Wallace.
The Patriots enter off a needed bye week to get some key players healthy. They looked somewhat mortal offensively their last time out, beating Dallas, 20-16. That ended New England’s streak of consecutive 30-point regular-season games at 13, one shy of the NFL record.
Tom Brady threw for “only” 289 yards and had his second multi-interception game of the season.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Storylines
Let’s look at the key injuries first.
As you would expect, New England is a bit healthier with the week off. The Pats are hoping to get top linebacker Jerod Mayo and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer back this week. Mayo has been out since getting injured in Week 4 and Vollmer hasn't played since Week 2 and has missed the most games of his three-year career.
You will want to monitor those two later in the week, but it appears Mayo may be the more likely to play because he has been practicing fully.
As for Pittsburgh, it is hoping to have starting nose tackle Casey Hampton back. He is expected to return to practice Wednesday. Hampton missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, replaced in the lineup for two of those games by Chris Hoke and against Arizona by Steve McLendon.
WR Hines Ward left the Cardinals game with an ankle injury and is officially questionable as of now. Ward tends to always play through injuries. However, stud linebacker James Harrison remains out, as does guard Doug Legursky and likely Hoke.
Obviously, the matchup everyone wants to watch is that Pittsburgh defense—which is No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 overall—against that No. 1 New England passing and total offense and No. 4 scoring offense. Brady (2,163) is on pace to throw for 5,768 yards, which would shatter Dan Marino’s 1984 record.
Wes Welker has 51 receptions and 785 receiving yards. He has fallen behind the pace of Marvin Harrison’s single-season record of 143 catches, but he is still on track to be the first receiver ever with 2,000 receiving yards.
Coach Mike Tomlin hinted that top cornerback Ike Taylor will be assigned to Welker even though Taylor doesn’t usually defend slot receivers.
In the Patriots' past two games against Pittsburgh, dating to 2007, Brady has completed 70 percent of his passes for 749 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Last year, New England went to Pittsburgh and won, 39-26, behind Brady’s 350 yards and three TDs.
The Steelers might go more pass-heavy this week. New England is last in the NFL in defensive passing yards per game and it is allowing 8.47 yards per pass attempt this season. It’s not only the worst in the league, but also the worst mark since the 0-16 Lions in 2008 (8.82).
No team has advanced to the Super Bowl allowing more than 8.0 yards per attempt. Roethlisberger threw for 387 and three scores in last year’s loss to the Pats.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
New England opened as a three-point favorite with the total at 50.5 on NFL odds. More than 70 percent of the early action is on the Pats.
New England is 4-2 ATS this season and 2-1 ATS on the road with the "over/under" at 4-2. Pittsburgh is 3-4 ATS and 2-1 ATS at home. The "over" has hit in four games for the Steelers.
The Pats are 5-1 ATS in past six as a road favorite. Steelers are 6-1 ATS in past seven as a home dog, but only 1-5 ATS in past six after a win.
The "over" is 12-2 in Pats’ past 14 following a win. It is 8-2 in Pittsburgh’s past 10 following a victory. The "over" is 7-1 in past eight meetings. The road team is 4-1 ATS in past five.
Patriots at Steelers Betting Preview
The Steelers have looked vastly different at home this year, allowing just three total touchdowns and 30 combined points in three games, all wins. Of course, the Pats have scored at least 31 points in their three road games so far. But the New England defense is allowing an average of nearly 26.0 points in those three, too.
Pittsburgh certainly must pressure Brady, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley is rolling right now. In the Steelers' last three games, he's had 5.5 sacks, including two against the Cardinals. He leads the AFC with seven overall.
I might hold out and hope this line rises to 3.5, but I’m taking the Steelers even if it is at three. At worst they push. And I also like the "under."