Pittsburgh Steelers @ Detroit Lions
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Steelers can cage the Lions to lead the race in the AFC
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense have struggled to capture the eye-catching form of last year. Many of those lacklustre efforts can be attributed to Big Ben himself, whose Swizz quartz-like timing in striking the right tone appears to be receding in tandem with London's even more illustrious old bell. Is old father time catching up to shut down Pittsburgh's evergreen talisman?
Well, speaking of famous Bells, Le'Veon is one the Steelers don't need to worry about. After a slow start to the current campaign, trusty No.26 has rediscovered some more familiar rushing digits (averaging 97 yards on the ground per game off 24 carries). And with their constant stream of ground gains renewed, there's no real reason to doubt that Pittsburgh can't saddle up Bell and ride him deep into the postseason once again, off a top play-off seeding.
After all, alongside Roethlisberger and flashy wideout Antonio Brown, Bell makes up possibly the most potent offensive troika in the league. So while the Steelers aren't lacking other options, having Big Ben's front tyre restored to proximate full health should make the difference here in the Motor City. In short, more reliable and less Reliant Robin. For, although Roethlisberger has struggled on the road of late, this QB is seldom more dangerous than when the apparent holes in his hands are being questioned by Doubting Thomases.
Pittsburgh's defense has also benefitted from a comparatively soft schedule thus far. The likes of DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Mike Glennon are mired in mediocrity, but now the Steel Curtain faces an elite quarterback in his own backyard. Trouble is, of course, that while Matt Stafford has all the athletic tools for elite status, his offensive teammates don't exactly help to free up his throwing arm.
Indeed, the Lions are struggling to move the chains on the run (presently the sixth-worst at so doing in the league). Consequently, an over-reliance on Stafford and his receiving crew is invariably the predictable upshot. Accordingly, rivals Ds don't mind taking a chance in getting up in Stafford's grill as he bids to extend plays, and the results have been alarming: 23 sacks in only six games. And the hits will keep coming from the Black and Golds tonight. Let's just hope Stafford doesn't go the way of fellow scrambling artist Aaron Rodgers, and doughty drop-backer Carson Palmer - both out for the season with respective recent breaks.
Therefore when all's said and done, although visiting favourites often constitute a long road to the poor house in the NFL, Pittsburgh can comfortably cover a few handicap lines here. It may not be explosive but it doesn't have to be. Their defense matches up well against the one-dimensional Lions, and Bell offers them clock control with his steady flow of relentless progress. Hell, Roethlisberger might even chuck him the ball once in a while.
For all the exaggerated reports of Roethlisberger's regression (i.e. it's a blip not a trend) the facts remain clear. The Steelers top a poor division with some key head-to-heads firmly established in their favour; they already hold a pivotal tiebreaker advantage over Kansas City (also 5-2 this term); and, as we know, the New England Pats (5-2 as well) aren't all that this season. So with that in mind, it's time for my first outright bet of the campaign on Pittsburgh to scoop the number-one seed in the AFC, and defend fortress Heinz Field all the way to the Super Bowl.
Back Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.8810/11 or better
Back Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5) to win on the First Half Handicap @ 1.8810/11 or better
Back L. Bell to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 8.07/1 / 1.9420/21 or better
Back Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl @ 8.88/1 or better