The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) got some of their walking wounded back last week as running back Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker James Harrison made their season debuts and Pittsburgh beat the Eagles 16-14 on a last-second field goal. The bad news is that Troy Polamalu re-aggravated his calf injury and will miss this contest.
The Titans (1-4) were brutal in a 30-7 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings, as after teasing fans with a great performance vs. a fine Houston defense two weeks ago, Chris Johnson went back to his slow, sluggish ways. The Steelers are -5 road favorites in Tennessee for this week’s Thursday Night Football contest with the total set at 42½.
1. Why Pittsburgh will cover the spread: Pittsburgh will cover the spread here if Mendenhall shows normal progression following his first game of the year. He ran the ball very well while rushing for 81 yards on just 14 carries, which was a major relief, considering how bad the other Steelers’ running backs had performed this season. Ben Roethlisberger still threw the ball 37 times though, completing 21 of his attempts for 207 yards. The Steelers would like to see fewer pass attempts and more power running, and they will get that as Mendenhall’s workload increases. A second key when Big Ben does throw the ball is his receivers catching it, as both Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace were guilty of several drops vs. Philadelphia, something that carried over from Pittsburgh’s previous game vs. Oakland before their bye week. Brown and Wallace never had a chronic case of the dropsies before, so the fact that they are both going trough it at the same time is rather baffling.
2. Why Tennessee will cover the spread: The key to a Tennessee cover here is an improved passing performance from Matt Hasselbeck, who looked good after relieving the injured Jake Locker two weeks ago but then struggled in his first start, completing 26-of-43 passes for only 200 yards with one touchdown and one interception vs. the Vikings. Hasselbeck does have some nice receiving targets in Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright, not to mention tight end Jared Cook, who caught the touchdown pass last week. We have given up on referring to an effective running game from Johnson as a key at this point, as the Titans have to be able to pass here and consider throwback games from Johnson like he had vs. Johnson as a bonus.
3. Total Talk: We would take a long look at the ‘under’ here before playing a side. The Steelers wanted to return to smash-mouth power football this season, and they may get there yet with Mendenhall’s return, especially vs. the 28th ranked Tennessee rushing defense. Also, while the Titans actually have an underrated receiving corps, do not expect Hasselbeck to have an easy time getting them the ball vs. the third ranked Pittsburgh pass defense.
4. Betting Trends for Steelers/Titans: While we lean to the Pittsburgh side, take note that the Steelers are on an 0-4 ATS run as road favorites, and that the underdogs have gone 6-2 in the last eight head-to-head meetings. The ‘under’ is 10-4-1 in the last 15 Tennessee games overall.
Pittsburgh 23 – Tennessee 14