Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5, 49.5 o/u) at Washington
The good news: Monday nights now feature football again. The bad news: Week 1 in the NFL is almost over. Before the truly thrilling opening week concludes, we’ll be treated to another game that should feature a lot of offense as the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6 SU, 8-4-4 ATS in 2015) head east to take on that team from Washington (9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS in 2015) which has a racist name and actually plays in Maryland (7:10 PM ET at FedEx Field).
The 2015 Steelers scored 26.4 points per game (fourth), while only allowing 19.9 points per game (11th). They possessed the third-best passing attack in the league, led by Ben Roethlisberger (3,938 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs in 2015), but they had a hell of a time preventing other teams from putting the ball in the air, ranking 30th in passing yards allowed.
Pittsburgh enjoyed all of that offensive success last season while playing the majority of their games without one of their “Killer B’s:” Big Ben only appeared in 12 games, while Le’Veon Bell (556 rushing yards, three TDs) only played in six. However, the third member of their group, Antonio Brown (1,834 receiving yards, ten TDs), managed to stay healthy all year.
Entering the 2016 season, the Steelers will once again be without their full core on offense as Bell is suspended for the first three games of the season due to missing multiple drug tests. Also missing from the offense will be Martavis Bryant (756 receiving yards, six TDs), who is suspended for the entire season, and Markus Wheaton (749 receiving yards, five TDs), who has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Thanks to Wheaton’s inactive status, the Steelers will only have four wide receivers on their active roster in Washington: Brown, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Eli Rogers.
When Pittsburgh wants to run the ball, they will be handing it to DeAngelo Williams (907 rushing yards, 11 TDs), whom they relied upon in Bell’s absence last season, as well.
The shorthanded Steelers will be facing a Washington team coming off a division title, but one marred by the weakness of their schedule: they managed to win the NFC East without ever beating a plus-.500 team.
Head coach Jay Gruden will, nonetheless, feel confident that he’s found his quarterback in Kirk Cousins. The former Spartan had a career year (4,166 passing yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs in 2015), leading the offense to 24.3 points per game (tenth).
However, Washington had a similar problem to Pittsburgh in 2015: they couldn’t cover anyone (25th in passing yards allowed). They couldn’t stop the run either, ranking 26th in rushing yards allowed and 31st in yards per carry. In spite of the yards allowed, the Washington defense didn’t break as often as you’d expect, ranking 17th in scoring (23.7 points agaisnt per game).
Washington’s own passing stats (11th in the NFL) were also a result of their inability to run the ball, averaging a measly 3.7 yards per carry (30th). Their leading rusher from 2015, Alfred Morris (751 rushing yards, one TD), is now in Dallas, and they’ve turned the backfield over to second-year pro Matt Jones (490 rushing yards, four total TDs). Jones suffered from a pretty extreme case of fumble-itis in 2015 (five fumbles), and spent a good amount of time in the doghouse as a result.
No one believes Washington is going to turn into a run-first team, especially against the Steelers, who allowed the fifth-fewest yards on the ground in 2015. Instead, they’ll keep putting the ball in the air, looking to DeSean Jackson (528 receiving yards, four TDs) to stay healthy, Pierre Garcon (777 receiving yards, six TDs) to continue operating the underneath routes, and breakout tight end Jordan Reed (952 receiving yards, 11 TDs) to continue creating mismatches.
Although Washington is more intact team in Week 1, it doesn’t mean they have the better weapons. In a game that has shootout written all over it, the nod has to go to the team that possesses the two best players on the field: Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.
New Washington corner Josh Norman will get exposed if he tries to lock-up one on one with Brown, and Washington’s one-dimensional offense will be slowed by Mike Tomlin’s underrated D. Look for DeAngelo Williams to rack up the yards on the ground, while the Steelers’ athletic linebackers make Jordan Reed’s night a rough one.
Pittsburgh is 7-3-2 ATS in their last 12 road games, and 4-1 ATS in their last five games in September. You’ll be able to add another win to those trends after this one.
Pick: Steelers (-2.5).
Photo credit: Andy (big ben) CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.