Preseason betting line: Pittsburgh Steelers at St Louis Rams (-1)
Le’Veon Bell makes his triumphant return to the Pittsburgh offense in Week 3 and it comes at the perfect time with a ferocious Rams defensive line waiting for the Steelers at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis (Sunday, Sep. 27 at 1:00 PM Eastern).
Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and the rest of the Rams pass rush harassed Russell Wilson all afternoon in Week 1, sacking the mobile QB six times and limiting the Seattle offense to one touchdown. Pittsburgh will be in line for a similar fate – especially without Maurkice Pouncey at center – unless they can find success on the ground.
Dynamic as both a runner and a short-route receiver, Bell will rarely leave the field in his first game back as the Steelers look to avoid finding themselves in too many third-and-long situations. There are yards to be had against this Rams D: Marshawn Lynch gained 104 yards on 23 touches. Bell should especially help his team finish off drives after Pittsburgh settled for too many (missed) field goals against New England.
On the other side, the Rams’ offense displayed an effective passing game for the first time in… a while. That was made more impressive by the lack of a run game; both Tre Mason and Todd Gurley watched from the sideline, injured, while third-stringer Benny Cunningham got the bulk of the carries. While it was a nice start for Nick Foles, it’s hard to buy in to this offense just yet, given the consistency issues he had in Philadelphia last season.
In fact, it’s hard to gauge what that win means for the Rams, as a whole. This is a team that has always “gotten up” to play the Seahawks, but still went just 3-5 at home last year. Throw in the fact that you can usually count on one big game a year from Tavon Austin – before he reverts to being a massive underachiever – and St. Louis still has plenty of questions to answer.
This Pittsburgh defense is hardly the Steel Curtain of old, but they have a solid young linebacking corps that can make plays. This game should be a close one that tests if St. Louis is mature enough to win tight games outside their division.
A Rams win at home over a contending AFC team should give this team a 3-0 record (with a winnable game against the Redskins still to come in Week 2) and prove that they’re a real threat in the NFC; but I’m not sure I’m buying it just yet. Pittsburgh went 5-3 on the road straight up last season and will be prepared for this game following a match up with a similarly tough San Francisco team in Week 2.
Straight-up pick: Steelers.
(Photo: Creative Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)