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‘Thursday Night Football’ picks and open thread: Patriots at Steelers

Will there be any points scored tonight?

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Last week, Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football broadcast reached its largest audience ever. This week, it might reach its smallest with the 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the 2-10 New England Patriots.

On paper, this is a classic mismatch with DraftKings Sportsbook favoring the home team by a touchdown, absent the extra point (or 2-point try).

Personally, I think the spread is a little low.

The Over/Under is also low . . . very, very low, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s look at some of the storylines for tonight’s game . . .

. . .

Storyline No. 1: The NFL’s winningest active coach (Bill Belichick) vs. the league’s 3rd-winningest active coach (Mike Tomlin).

Between them, these two coaches have 470 regular season wins, plus another 40 wins in the playoffs.

Belichick leads both categories by a wide margin: 300-170 and 31-9.

Fun Fact: Bill Belichick is only 7 months younger than Pete Carroll.

Pete, aka “the youngest 72-year-old in the league”, was born September 15th, 1951; Belichick was born April 16th, 1952.


Storyline No. 2: The end of an era in Beantown.

Minus Tom Brady, who left New England after the 2019 season, Bill Belichick’s Patriots have struggled:

  • Three of the last four seasons resulted in losing records
  • 2021 was the only season they finished above .500 (10-7), and it was the only year they made the playoffs (where they lost by 30 points in the wildcard round)
  • This year, the Patriots have the 2nd-worst record in the league, and are two full games behind the next-worst team in the AFC with 5 games left to play

Belichick’s contract runs through 2024, at which point he will have been with the team for a full quarter century.

The question is whether or not Belichick will make it to 2024.


Storyline No. 3: Battle of the backups?

Mac Jones started the season as QB1 in New England. He faltered and was benched . . . four different times.

Bailey Zappe, who was selected in the 4th round of the 2022 NFL Draft (No. 137 overall) got the start last week and had a lackluster performance (13 of 25 for 141 yards) in a game that the Patriots lost 6-0.

Whichever quarterback “earns” the start this week, it seems like a safe bet that they’ll struggle, but the smart money is probably on Zappe over Jones if the Patriots are going to have any chance at getting a W.

Meanwhile, on the Pittsburgh side of the field, there will be a change at QB1 after Kenny Pickett underwent surgery on his right ankle on Monday.

Mitch Trubisky took over when Pickett went down with what was described at the time as “a high ankle sprain” and finished the day 11 of 17 for 117 yards and a touchdown.

That’s not bad, especially under the circumstances, but . . .

Last year, in 7 appearances for the Steelers, including 5 starts, Trubisky was 117 of 180 (65%) for 1,252 yards, with 4 TDs, 5 INTs, a QBR of 58.5, and a passer rating of 81.1.

This year, in 3 relief appearances, Trubisky is 29 of 49 (59.2%) for 273 yards with 2 TDs, 2 INTs, a QBR of 23.8, and a passer rating of 71.2.


Storyline No. 4: Advantage, defense.

If you’re a fan of offense, this probably won’t be your kind of game.

Both offenses are among the league’s worst, and while the defenses aren’t “great”, they’re both better than the offense they’ll be facing.

Here are their respective rankings:

Yards per game:

  • Patriots: No. 28 on offense (290.4); No. 8 on defense (310.5)
  • Steelers: No. 26 of offense (294.9); No. 21 on defense (348.3)

Points per game:

  • Patriots: 32nd on offense (12.3); 15th on defense (21.2)
  • Steelers: 28th on offense (16.0); 6th on defense (19.1)

Stat Check: The Patriots have lost their last four games by a combined 16 points, which is both amazing and depressing since New England’s defense has held each of their last three opponents to 10 points or less.


Storyline No. 5: Blame it on Canada!

As noted above, the Steelers offense has not been good this year (28th in yards, 32nd in points).

Pittsburgh’s offense wasn’t good last year either (23rd in yards, 26th in points).

Or the year before that (23rd in yards, 21st in points).

Here are Pittsburgh’s yards and points per game the last four seasons (2020 to 2023):

  • Yards: 334.6 - - > 315.4 - - > 322.6 - - > 294.9
  • Points: 26.0 - - > 20.2 - - > 18.1 - - > 16.0

Minus the modest bump in yards per game in 2022, it’s been a downward trend for Pittsburgh the last three years.

The common theme from 2021 to 2023? Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada.

Under Canada’s watch, the Steelers had never reached 400 yards of offense. Two weeks ago, immediately after firing him, Pittsburgh’s beleaguered offense put up 421.

Last week, they tallied 317.

A little math tells us that the “real” numbers for Pittsburgh’s offense this year are 280 yards per game with Matt Canada and 369 without.

Scoring is down since Canada left though (16.6 with vs. 13.0 without), so . . . ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Storyline No. 6: The Over/Under.

Remember in the intro when I said the Over/Under on this game was very, very low, but that we’d get to that in a bit?

Well, here we are.

The Over/Under on tonight’s game was 30 points when I sat down to write this article.

If that holds, it will be THE LOWEST OVER/UNDER OF THE YEAR.

Up to this point, the 2023 season’s lowest O/U belonged to the Week 11 matchup between the Steelers and the Browns (33 points, at Cleveland).

This one is three points lower than that.

The Pick: Steelers win and cover . . . UNDER 30 points.

Let’s see if the rest of the crew agrees (especially about the Over/Under) . . .