Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM
TNF - Panthers at Steelers
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Carolina at Pittsburgh (-3.5, 52), 8:20 pm ET, FOX/NFLN
The Panthers and Steelers are part of the NFL’s “Magnificent seven” through the regular-season’s halfway point, having suffered two or fewer losses through the first eight games. Both lead their respective divisions but are currently flying under the radar behind the four teams with the most wins so far, the Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Patriots.
While those may be the first four teams that come to mind when discussing the NFL’s most likely conference finalists, Carolina and Pittsburgh could easily crash that party and will be looking to get a leg up on everyone else as we cross over into Week 10.
A realistic goal for these two would be to host at least one playoff game, if not more, which will be far more likely for the team that gets out of Heinz Field with a victory to open an attractive run of games on the Thursday night schedule after a couple of October duds and last week’s dreadful Bay Area battle debacle. Only postseason contenders highlight the TNF slate the rest of the way, but tonight’s matchup is the only one that could double as a Super Bowl preview. It will also afford Carolina the opportunity to defeat the Steelers for the first time since the franchises met back in 1996. The Steelers have won the last four meetings 131-39 and have never failed to cover a spread against Carolina.
Cam Newton will be facing the Steelers for only the second time in his career and will be dealing with Terrible Towels for the first time in his first regular-season game in Pittsburgh. He has led the Panthers to three straight victories and is certainly an NFL MVP candidate, having accounted for at least two touchdowns in every game since Week 2. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 14 and comes off his highest QB rating of the season after completing 19 of 25 passes for 247 yards in a 42-28 win over Tampa Bay.
With speedy young receivers Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore emerging and running back Christian McCaffrey coming into his own as one of the NFL’s most versatile weapons, Newton has gone from wondering who in the world to target to having multiple quality options every time he breaks the huddle. Tight end Greg Olsen’s return from a broken foot has given Newton his security blanket back, adding a proven red zone threat to an arsenal also featuring Devin Funchess and veteran Torrey Smith.
Carolina’s defense isn’t as imposing as it has been in past seasons, but the offense looks to be the best we’ve seen under Ron Rivera since the 2015 version that reached the Super Bowl. The Panthers have topped the 30-point mark in four of the last six contests and Newton is on pace to throw for 30 touchdowns, which would be the second-highest number of his career.
Liberated by new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to play to his strength and run call his own number on runs, there’s no question Newton’s consistent brilliance has made the difference in this team being in every game they’ve played this season, losing only at the Falcons and ‘Skins. Both road losses were winnable and featured the Panthers digging themselves holes with flat starts on the offensive end, so count on getting Newton on track early to be the key to things in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have suffered both their losses at home, so they’re certainly not invincible despite one of the league’s top homefield advantages. They’ve won and covered in four straight games, defeating Atlanta and AFC North rivals Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore by a combined margin of 53 points. Despite still missing standout RB Le’Veon Bell due to a contract dispute, Pittsburgh has overcome his absence and all the distractions related to having to answer questions about it thanks to the emergence of second-year University of Pittsburgh product James Conner.
The 230-pound back caught a season-high seven passes from Ben Roethlisberger last week, giving him 38 on the season after not coming up with a single catch as a rookie. He made his first touchdown reception in a 23-16 win at Baltimore last week and rolled off his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. He has a run of game with multiple TD runs snapped by the Ravens and will now face the league’s eight-ranked defense against the ground game, so it will be interesting to see how he fares as he looks to continue taking pressure of a passing attack that features one of the league’s most feared receiving combos in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
After being upset with not getting the ball enough earlier in the season despite an obscene amount of targets making him sound crazy, Brown has settled in and has found the end zone six straight contests, bringing him up to nine touchdowns on the season. He’ll look to have another big game alongside Roethlisberger, who has recovered from an ugly 2018 debut in the Week 1 tie in Cleveland by throwing for 15 TDs while being picked off just four times over the last seven contests.
The Steelers have won 13 of 14 games played in prime time, but will be facing a tough Panthers squad that has covered seven of 10 as road underdogs. Weather conditions shouldn’t affect the flow of both offenses despite temperatures expected to dip into the 30s because wind shouldn’t be a factor. For more information on the total, line movement, injuries, props and future figures, read on below.
Season win total: 8.5 (Over +110, Under -130)
Odds to win NFC South: 5/2 to 5/2
Odds to win NFC: 12/1 to 12/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25/1 to 25/1
Season win total: 10.5 (Over +125, Under -145)
Odds to win AFC North: EVEN to 1/2
Odds to win AFC: 5/1 to 7/2
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1 to 8/1
The Steelers were 5-to-1 to win the AFC when the season began, which made them second choice behind only New England. It is now third at 7/2 behind Kansas City (7/4) and New England (5/2). Carolina was 15-to-1 to capture the NFC, ranking tied for seventh in the pecking order within the conference alongside the Cowboys, Giants and 49ers. They're now 12-to-1, which is fifth behind the Rams (5/4), Saints (7/4), Vikings (8/1) and Eagles (10/1).
Pittsburgh opened the season 10-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, which ranked only behind the Patriots while doubling as the same odds placed on heavyweights like the Rams and Vikings. Current championship odds are at 8-to-1 for the Black-and-Yellow. The Panthers are a 25-to-1 Super Bowl shot at the moment. The Panthers opened the season an 11-to-4 bet to win the NFC South behind the favored Saints (6/5) while Pittsburgh was a 5-to-11 favorite to claim the AFC North. Current odds and how the numbers stack up against last week are available above. .
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Steelers were a 6.5-point favorite when the Westgate's early numbers were announced last week and opened at -5 before immediately dropping down to 4 at most shops and eventually reaching where it currently resides at -3.5.
Pittsburgh opened at -220 on the money line and is available at -180 at the moment. If you like the road 'dog outright, a payout on the Panthers win will get you a return of +150 to +165 depending on the shop.
Bell’s availability is consistently the talk of the town when it comes to the Steelers, but nothing has really changed on that front. He's out. A bigger issue for the Steelers is the continued absence of tackle Marcus Gilbert, who will miss another game due to a knee injury. To his credit, undrafted veteran Matt Feiler has done a nice job filling in.
Carolina's biggest question mark is center Ryan Kalil, who hurt his ankle last week and would be a substantial loss on the road in a loud, hostile atmosphere. He's going to warm up and is expected to be a legitimate game-time decision. Safety Eric Reid and DE Mario Addison are questionable but should play, while DE Marquis Haynes and WR Torrey Smith are out.
The ‘over/under’ on this matchup opened at 50 most books have gone to 52 as of Thursday morning.
Weekly “Total Talk” writer Chris David of VegasInsider.com provided his thoughts on this matchup:
We finally saw an ‘under’ ticket cash last Thursday as the Raiders left the offense home in their 34-3 road loss at San Francisco. This week’s total seems like an obvious ‘over’ lean based on the form for both offensive units but I’d be careful to sleep on their defenses.
During Pittsburgh’s current winning streak, they’re averaging 31.3 PPG but only allowing 18 PPG and outside of the Browns, three of the quarterbacks (Ryan, Dalton, Flacco) aren’t guys to sleep on.
Meanwhile, Carolina enters this game off 36 and 42-point efforts from its offense. Scoring six touchdowns on the Buccaneers last Sunday shouldn’t come as a surprise but a seven-score performance (4 TDs, 3 FGs) versus the Ravens is impressive. The one stop sign that could prevent me from leaning high on Thursday is that Carolina’s offense hasn’t travelled well (20.7 PPG) this season and that’s led to a 2-1 ‘under’ mark. Combine that with Pittsburgh’s defense only allowing 17 and 18 points in its last two at Heinz Field certainly could make you hesitant as well.
Carolina will be making its first appearance in a primetime game this season while this will be Pittsburgh’s third game under the lights, the first two taking place in late September. The Steelers went 1-1 in those games and the totals had the same results in a win over Tampa Bay (30-27) and a loss to Baltimore (28-14).
Non-conference games (AFC vs. NFC) have seen the ‘over’ go 21-15 (58%) this season. Pittsburgh has helped that cause with shootout wins over the Buccaneers and Falcons, and Carolina has also attributed with a pair of high-scoring victories over the Bengals and Ravens.
Even though this total is expected to see points, totals in the fifties this season have seen split results. Through nine weeks, there have been 34 games that have seen a total close at 50 or higher and the ‘over/under’ has produced a 17-17 mark.
Despite the great form for the Panthers, this is a tough spot traveling to Western Pennsylvania. In similar road trips, the offense was held to 17 and 21 against the Redskins and Eagles respectively. While I believe those units are better defensively than Pittsburgh, my lean would be to the Carolina Team Total ‘under’ (23 ½) on the short week.
ALL-TIME MEETINGS (Pittsburgh 5-1 SU, 6-0 ATS last 8; OVER 4-2)
9/21/14 Pittsburgh 37-19 vs. Carolina (PIT +3, 42)
10/17/10 Pittsburgh 27-3 vs. Carolina (PIT -14.5, 38)
12/17/06 Pittsburgh 37-3 at Carolina (PIT -2.5, 39)
12/15/02 Pittsburgh 30-14 vs. Carolina (PIT -9, 39)
12/26/99 Pittsburgh 30-20 vs. Carolina (PIT +3.5, 42.5)
12/22/96 Carolina 18-14 vs. Pittsburgh (PIT +5.5, 36)
NEXT WEEK'S NUMBERS POSTED
Westgate Vegas opens its advance lines for the following week on Tuesdays and Week 11 currently has the Panthers liisted as a 3.5-point road underdog at the Lions. The Steelers were expected to back in prime time to visit the Jaguars for the Week 11 Sunday night game but have been flexed out in favor of the Vikings and Bears. Pittsburgh will now play an afternoon game in Jacksonville and is listed as a 2.5-point favorite.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA