Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers
Pittsburgh’s playoff chances are riding on Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained left ankle. Good for the Steelers that Big Ben’s ankle will hold up under pressure. Unlike James Harrison’s IQ. Pittsburgh will have 10 days between last Thursday and Monday, and with that kind of recovery time, I can’t fathom Roethlisberger would miss a showdown of this importance.
The Steelers and 49ers both play physical, dominant defense – the Steelers are ranked 1st against the pass and the 49ers are 1st against the run – and are led by aggressive young coaches. That’s where the similarities end, though. San Francisco’s offense leans on Frank Gore and the power running game to pound opponents into submission. That sounds like what you’d expect out of the Steelers, but Mike Tomlin has turned the Pittsburgh ground and pound model on it’s head. Big Ben has passed for 3,526 yards and 21 TDs. That’s good for ninth best in the NFL. Pittsburgh will also finish the season with two receivers with more than 1,000 yards. Mike Wallace has torn up the league 1,034 yards already and Antonio Brown enters this week with 925. Barring injury, this year should be the first of many dual 1,000 yard seasons from this duo.
Looking at what I wrote in last week’s Three Things, it’s easy to see that I’m not sold on the 49ers:
The 49ers play a powerful brand of fooball that features good coaching, a steady dose of Frank Gore, and stingy defense. Fans have come to love that kind of football. It’s hard-nosed and intimidating. But beating up on the NFC West and a weak non division schedule may have fooled us into thinking that the 49ers are a big time contender in the NFC.
The opponents the 49ers have beaten are a combined 53-74 (41%). Of their 10 wins, the only quality victories are over the wild card – and wildly inconsistent – Detroit Lions and the New York Giants (see above). San Francisco jumped out to such an early lead in the division and played dominant football against bad teams. I respect that. But this loss to Arizona and that weak schedule have me wondering if San Francisco is a little bit over-rated. With Pittsburgh and a surging Seattle looming before the season finale against St. Louis, we might see the 49ers lose their hold on the #2 seed and the first round bye in the playoffs.
I can’t help but think San Francisco isn’t quite ready to stop an elite team.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 - San Francisco 49ers 21
Upset of the Week
The Seattle Seahawks will beat the Chicago Bears
Bears fans probably aren’t incredibly happy with me after picking the Mile High Tebows to beat them last week and now the Seahawks to march into Soldier Field and pull off the upset. Don’t be mad at me, be mad at Matt Forte’s knee and Jay Cutler’s thumb. The Bears offense isn’t going to play well, again, but this game is going to be lost by the once vaunted Chicago D.
Chicago has given up almost 40 yards per game more against the rush during the current three game losing streak than they did during the five game winning streak before the skid. Without an offense capable of keeping the defense fresh, the age of the front seven becomes apparent. This is good news for Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who should gain the 31 yards he needs to ensure his third 1,000 yard season.
Tarvaris Jackson will edge out Caleb Hanie in what’s sure to be a mistake fest to keep the Seahawks mathematically alive in the NFC wild card hunt.
Seattle Seahawks 20 - Chicago Bears 17
|Jaguars||+12||Falcons||Falcons||Falcons||**Post Game** Holy crap is Jacksonville bad. Looks good for Dallas against Tampa Bay, who the Jags trounced last week.|
|Cowboys||-7||Buccaneers||Cowboys||Cowboys||Dallas is playing for their lives. The Cowboys need to win out if they want to guarantee a spot in the playoffs after last week’s debacle against the Giants. And, as previously mentioned, the Bucs are awful.|
|Dolphins||-1.5||Bills||Dolphins||Dolphins||Even if Matt Moore doesn’t play for Miami, interim coach Todd Bowles should pick up his first win against the reeling Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick got paid and faded down the stretch, and the Buffalo defense has done their best to keep up with the QB’s ineptitude.|
|Seahawks||+3.5||Bears||Seahawks||Seahawks||The biggest upset of the year would be an NFC West team make a wild card spot.|
|Titans||-6.5||Colts||Titans||Titans||There are two trends that have become constants so far this season. I always pick the Packers to cover the spread, and I always pick the Colts to lose to the spread. I don’t think anyone has entertained the idea of Indy winning a game since week seven.|
|Packers||-14||Chiefs||Packers||Packers||It’s likely that the Packers won’t go undefeated, but if you think I’m going to back off Green Bay because interim coach Romeo Crennel announced Kyle Orton is getting the start for Kansas City, you’re crazy. Green Bay is looking to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Maybe next week I’ll entertain the classic “we’re resting starters, treating these games like garbage time preseason contests” losses for Green Bay.|
|Bengals||-6.5||Rams||Bengals||Bengals||Cincinnati has been the team that beats up on bad teams but isn’t quite good enough to finish against elite competition all season. That trend will hold true in a game that will see Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will put up numbers that should steal enough votes from each other to ensure Cam Newton wins offensive rookie of the year.|
|Saints||-7||Vikings||Saints||Saints||This is a playoff situation game. Maybe Minnesota could give New Orleans a close game under different circumstances, but the Saints will have the pedal to the floor in the Metrodome. Not only do the Saints need to continue winning to lock up the NFC South, but they can take control of the #2 seed if they win and the 49ers lose this week.|
|Redskins||+7||Giants||Giants||Giants||New York has been giving up passing yards lately, but, lucky for them, Rex Grossman and the Washington offense is terrible. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul dominated Dallas so thoroughly last week that I’m picking him for 12 sacks, 2 blocked field goals and 4 defensive touchdowns. Does that seem like too much?|
|Panthers||+6||Texans||Texans||Panthers||Cam Newton will keep this game close, but Houston’s dominant defense will contain him just enough to pull off the win. Carolina is a good team, but the Panthers haven’t been able to close games at all this season. Last week’s loss to the Falcons after leading 23-7 at halftime is the most glaring proof of Carolina’s inability to play well for four quarters.|
|Lions||-1||Raiders||Lions||Lions||Biggest story of the game? The Lions are getting Ndamukong Suh back, and he should dominate against Oakland’s offensive line. Season trend that locks in my pick? Detroit is scoring 28 points per game and Oakland is allowing 27 points per game. The Lions should score 34.|
|Patriots||-7||Broncos||Patriots||Patriots||You know how close I was to picking Denver as my upset of the week? About as close as I am to making an NFL squad as an undersized, slow, apathetic special teamer. 424 yards and 30 points per game from New England ought to introduce the very good Denver defense to championship caliber competition, but the game will be decided with Tebow on the field. It just won’t be what we’ve been used to seeing from him. Tim Tebow will be introduced to a Bill Belichick defensive scheme, and even without a ton of talent on the Patriots D, I can’t see Tebow having the answers at this point in his career.|
|Jets||+3||Eagles||Jets||Jets||I picked the Jets, stared at the monitor for a few seconds, and just shrugged my shoulders. New York may eke out a wild card, but they’re goners in the postseason and Philadelphia is a train wreck. Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense has been gaining momentum while Michael Vick is one hit away from falling apart like Humpty Dumpty.|
|Browns||+7||Cardinals||Browns||Browns||What the hell, right? Cleveland has a history of winning games late in the season to adversely affect their draft position and this game looks like a prime candidate to knock the Browns out of elite QB contention. The defense is frisky and Seneca Wallace is experienced in the west coast offense. (This isn’t my upset of the week because I’m openly admitting that this is a throw away homer pick.)(I’ll be deleting that last paranthetical remark if I’m right.)|
|Ravens||-2.5||Chargers||Ravens||Ravens||Ray Lewis will be back in the lineup, and along with Terrelle Suggs, the Baltimore defense will calm Philip Rivers and Ryan Matthews down. San Diego’s recent surge is too little, too late. The Chargers are allowing 128 yards per game rushing, so look for Ray Rice to post his third straight 100 yard game.|
|Steelers||+2.5||49ers||Steelers||Steelers||Pittsburgh is shaping up to be a scary wild card team. Again.|