Carolina Panthers @ Pittsburgh Steelers: Steel edge should win it
Thursday night football will see two teams that Kieran O'Connor expects to reach the playoffs, square off after their tough outings on Sunday...
"However, it is defence that Pittsburgh have really changed things around. They haven't allowed more than 21 points in a game since September and held Baltimore to field goals on three of its four red zone trips this week."
Without question, Pittsburgh had a bigger and tougher game in an AFC North clash with bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. The game had even more spice as the Ravens QB Joe Flacco had effectively called the Steelers soft. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are fierce divisional rivals and the 23-16 win only confirms what has been bubbling for a while. The Steelers are a serious outfit again this year.
For the Panthers they are coming off two home wins, the latest of which was a comfortable enough victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They raced into a 35-7 lead in that one and while were pegged back a bit in the fourth quarter (more on that later), they did get the all-important win. Question now is, who will be more affected by the short week?
Steel motors revving up
The Steelers are really starting to motor. They started the season weakly; drawing with the Browns and then losing two of their next three. It was a worrying time for a team that was missing one of its best players as the Le'Veon Bell drama continued. The emergence of James Connor has meant that the loss of Bell has not been as severe, Connor is currently the league's second-leading rusher and everyone knows about the talent Pittsburgh have at WR.
Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the game, while second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the team in receiving yards and receptions. However, it is defence that Pittsburgh have really changed things around. They haven't allowed more than 21 points in a game since September and held Baltimore to field goals on three of its four red zone trips this week.
Carolina Cam and the gang
On the flip side, the AFC North has been a good hunting ground for the Panthers. The Ravens and Bengals have all been mauled by them and while Carolina are not solid in defence, look a potent offence. They have manged to rack up 100 points in their last three games and will need to continue to win as they are in the ultra-competitive NFC South along with my pick for the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints.
Cam Newton is a slightly polarising quarterback. His running is his strength but his arm has been getting better over the last few seasons so some of the naysayer have become a little quieter.
Adding to their offensive strength is tight end Greg Olsen and RB Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey, coming into the Panther side has improved the way they play and they are not as predictable as they were in the past. This game, could be a big barometer for how the season will go from here for the Panthers. While they played at home on Sunday their schedule gets tough from here.
Four of the Panthers' next five games are on the road, beginning this week. Carolina heads to Detroit in Week 11, is at home against Seattle in Week 12, then will play at Tampa Bay and at Cleveland in weeks 13 and 14. How many wins they can get from those contests will tell us a lot about this team's chances in the post season.
Pittsburgh have the D edge
This game is a hard one to call, both sides look like they can score regularly but it does seem like in defence that Pittsburgh have an advantage.
Earlier we mentioned how the Panthers beat Tampa on Sunday, and I did say we would come back to it. Yes, going into a 35-7 lead was very impressive, but, Tampa Bay were allowed get back into it with 21 unanswered points and that will leave Panthers coach Ron Rivera with a headache.
Then you look at the two WR's for Pittsburgh and their records.
Over the past two seasons, Brown and Smith-Schuster have combined for 263 catches (152 for Brown and 111 for Smith-Schuster) with 3,716 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns. Can you see the panthers shutting that down? I can't, but even if you do, they have Connor in the back field and two tight ends in Vance McDonald and Jesse James that can get you scores.
The handicap of -4 is tempting but I would prefer the match and over double. Both sides can score so I am going to go with Pittsburgh to Win and Over 51.5 points in the game at 15/8 on the Betfair Sportsbook.