Week 10 of the NFL season kicks off with a battle of two of the league’s form teams, as the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Carolina Panthers. Despite a myriad of off-field concerns, the Steelers have righted the ship after a 1-2-1 start to win 4 straight games. Similarly, the 6-2 Panthers enter this one on a roll, travelling to Pittsburgh after winning 5 of their last 6. With both of these teams firmly in the playoff race, a win here only puts them in a better position to be hosting games in January. Let’s take a look at our 3 best bets on the board in this intriguing inter-conference matchup.
Where to Watch: ESPN, 7 Mate or NFL Game Pass, Friday 12:20 pm
Of the Steelers 4 straight road wins, undoubtedly their most impressive one came over the division rival Ravens last week in Baltimore. Running Back James Conner continues to lead the way in Le’Veon Bell’s absence, registering 107 yards on 24 carries against the fearsome Baltimore defence. QB Ben Roethlisberger continued his stellar play through the first half of the season, accounting for all of Pittsburgh’s touchdowns. In Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers have one of the best receiving duos in the league, capable of giving opposing secondaries fits.
Defensively, this often-maligned Steelers unit put in a masterclass against Baltimore. They completely shut down an ineffective Ravens rushing attack, limiting them to only 61 yards on the afternoon. Similarly, they did a great job of containing a Ravens passing attack that has looked explosive so far this year, allowing just 5.6 yards per pass attempt. Defensive Backs Sean Davis, Morgan Burnett and Joe Haden deserve a lot of credit for their improved performances of late. They’ll need to be at their best as they welcome Cam Newton and the Panthers to town.
The Panthers enter this one off their best offensive output of the season, dropping 42 points on the hapless Buccaneers last week. QB Cam Newton has well and truly quietened his doubters in 2018, completing 67% of his passes and enjoying 15 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions. Christian McCaffrey has emerged as an elite two-way Running Back, registering just under 900 total yards and 5 touchdowns so far. In Curtis Samuel and Devin Funchess, they have an exciting young receiving duo that complements veteran Tight End Greg Olsen nicely.
Carolina have had an excellent defence ever since Linebacker Luke Kuechly entered the league. This has very much continued in 2018 and been a key reason behind their hot 6-2 start. Their excellent front seven completely shut down the Bucs rushing attack last week, holding them to just 82 yards. This was complemented nicely by a strong performance by the secondary, who held Ryan FitzMagic to just 6 yards per attempt and picked him off twice. In addition to Kuechly, players to watch on this defence include Defensive Tackle Kawann Short, Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and Linebacker Shaq Thompson.
The Panthers enter this one in red-hot form. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 games and haven’t lost by more than 7 points all season. This is a competitive and well-rounded side that has the ability to compete with any other team in the league. An excellent rushing attack led by both Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton regularly allows the Panthers to control the clock and win the time of possession battle, a skill that will prove very valuable in the raucous Pittsburgh environment.
Whilst the Steelers have looked better in recent weeks, they’ve only managed 2 really comfortable wins all season. Even at home, they were very much outclassed by both the Chiefs and the Ravens earlier this season. With the Le’Veon Bell situation still up in the air, the Steelers lack that bell cow back that can help them control the game. This Carolina secondary is coming off an excellent game against Tampa Bay last week and I think they can limit Ben Roethlisberger in this one.
Under 51.5 Points
Both of these teams have delivered stronger defensive performances of late. A great facsimile for this game is the Panthers road win as a 4.5-point underdog in Philadelphia earlier this season. In this one, they effectively shut down the Philly rushing attack and employed an excellent bend-but-don’t-break defensive strategy. I think their front seven has a strong matchup advantage here and can get after Pittsburgh’s offence.
Similarly, the Panthers offence hasn’t been all that great on the road this season. They put up only 24 points in Atlanta against a weak Falcons defence and were limited to only 17 points against Washington. Even in that road win over Philadelphia, they only managed 21 points. Evening primetime games in Pittsburgh are a very tough environment for any offence to go into and I think that 51.5 points gives us some good room to play with here.
First TD Scorer: Antonio Brown
With Le’Veon Bell’s status for this one still in question, Antonio Brown still represents the best threat for a dynamic Steelers offence. Brown has a very impressive 9 touchdowns in 8 appearances this season, including 6 in his last 4 games. His excellent hands and strong ability to separate mean that he’s a red-zone threat from nearly anywhere on the field.
Against a strong Panthers front seven, I expect Pittsburgh to look more towards the pass in this one. Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tight End Jesse James are the two other focal points of the passing game but have only managed 3 touchdowns combined on the campaign. Brown is still a favourite of Big Ben and he’ll surely look his way in the Red Zone here.
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 Carolina Panthers