Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 1:30 PM EST.
8:20 PM EST. This tasty Thursday night matchup has a lot to dissect, as it is a potential Super Bowl preview between a pair of popular market teams that are both on a tear. The Steelers have ripped off four straight wins, while the Panthers have a three-game run of Ws going after knocking off the Eagles, Ravens and Buccaneers respectively. It was against those Bucs that Carolina posted a franchise record 35 first-half points, but don't get too excited, as Tampa features the league's worst defense. We've written more than once that the Panthers are very much a real-life fantasy football team with Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen putting up big points every week. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been given a ton of credit for helping the Panthers and Newton specifically, but the star quarterback is still very limited with his receiving options, as the running back McCaffrey leads the team in receptions. Star wideouts are a big part of today's game and in a passing league, you need playmakers that can pull one out of their ass from time to time. If you watched any of the Panthers/Bucs game, you might have seen Carolina run some unconventional plays to generate offense, which has always been a calling card of Turner, but those tricks are often high risk, high reward. It's clear that the Panthers have opened up the offensive playbook the last few weeks but once there is film on those gadgets, they become much less effective. The Steelers are unlikely to be caught off guard and if they can sniff out some of Turner shenanigans, it could be a long day at the office for Newton and company.
Even if we conceded that these two teams are equal (although they are not), the Steelers are barely getting the pity field goal that is generally spotted to the home side in that situation. When you factor in that this is a short week and that Heinz Field is a very hostile place to play, this line is way off. The Steelers are also very accustomed to being in the spotlight and adjusting to the short turnaround time here. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offense often like to run the no-huddle in these types of games and that could leave the Panthers defenders sucking wind if their offense isn't able to sustain drives. The Steelers have more offensive weapons than the Panthers especially at wideout and if this were an old fashion shootout in the wild, wild west, Carolina would be bringing a slingshot to this gunfight. We're not sure why the Panthers are getting the lion's share of the action and the attention here, but we're not going to complain, as it's not often we get to back the superior home side on a short week for a much lower price than we should be. If the Panthers show up and run roughshod over the Steelers than so be it, but if Pittsburgh goes up early. Carolina is ill equipped to keep up.
Two weeks ago, Carolina was getting five points in Philadelphia and looked dead in the water before racking up 21 unanswered to pull a rabbit out of their hat. Last week, the Black Cats nearly blew a 35-7 lead over Bucs with at least 14 of the first 28 points being gift wrapped. Again, Carolina was very recently a 5-point dog in Philly on a normal week and now they’re less on a short week against a better team? That’s what we refer to as value.
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PITTSBURGH -3½ +106 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.12)