Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
Sixteen years after they were both selected as part of the 2004 Draft class, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger will meet in the penultimate week of 2020.
That has to be some sort of record. Regardless, this is still a huge matchup involving two playoff-bound teams that appear to be going in opposite directions.
Even when they were 11-0, the Steelers displayed vulnerabilities that had some people — including my colleague Rob Parker — thinking they were the most fraudulent undefeated team ever that deep into a season. On cue, it’s been nothing but three straight defeats since.
Conversely, Indianapolis has won three in a row to give them a late-season push toward a potential division title. With so much at stake, no wonder Jim Nantz and Tony Romo have drawn this assignment.
For Pittsburgh, a downgraded offense this month has been the main culprit, scoring fewer than 20 points during each of their four December contests. Prior, they had hung up at least 24 in their first 10 games.
Well, you don’t just suddenly flip the switch back on opposite an upper echelon defense. That’s exactly what the Colts possess and it’s been a main foundation for their success this year. They’ve been especially stingy against the run, being one of five clubs allowing less than 100 yards on the ground, which won’t be inviting for a Steeler rush attack that is tied for the lowest yards per attempt (3.7) in the league and and is also second from the bottom in rushing yards per week (88.9). Returning James Conner will only muddle Benny Snell’s emergence.
Indy’s pass defense isn’t as highly ranked but it’s certainly not bad at all. Besides, Big Ben has been floundering and showing his age lately, etching five consecutive outings with a passer rating below 90.0. He’s also averaged less than six yards per attempt each time as well.
Thus, you can’t really expect any type of outbreak by Pittsburgh on the offensive side of the ball. The same holds true for their counterparts, as the Colts must contend with maybe the No. 1 defense.
The Steelers, after all, have yielded the fewest points out there while also producing 47 sacks and 25 takeaways. Both of those marks rank them in the top two of football. Their main strength is in defending the pass, with opposing QBs managing a puny 74.9 passer rating. Decisively, that’s the lowest in the league.
So you have those attributes as it is. And then you have extra difficulty for Indy in this spot. Two main stalwarts on the offensive line, Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith, are out, and cold conditions will only make things tougher for Rivers. In 19 games throughout his 17-year career that had kickoff temperatures no higher than 40 degrees, Rivers posted a 90.2 passer rating, a considerable amount off from what it is under any warmer weather.
As a result, the Colts may opt to plan more around handing it off to stud rookie Jonathan Taylor, who has compiled at least 80 rushing yards in four straight. Such a strategy can prove useful to an under. For what it’s worth, Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed the fewest receiving yards to tailbacks (318) as well.
I bought a half point to 45, something you should always do (if you’re also a selective bettor) in order to be protected from the always-possible 24-21 or 28-17 outcome. The total has been dropping but I still recommend going after this wager.
The Bet: UNDER 45 (-120)
The Record: 8-6-1, +1.2 units
Last Week: Jaguars-Ravens Over 47 (WIN)
*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit