2004 Season NFL Football Past Picks
January 23, 2005
This pick was released to clients on December 31, 1969 at 9:00PM ET.
New England at Pittsburgh
Sunday 01/23 06:30 PM Eastern
2 units on New England +3 (-110) (risk 2 to return 3.82) RESULT: LOSS
Like a lot of people, I have gone back and forth on this game all week in my mind. However, I keep coming back to my initial gut feel. Jump on the home underdog. Sure, New England is a magical team coached by the best guy in the business. Tom Brady is money in the playoffs and Belichick is perfect against QBs when facing them for the second time in the same season. But hold on here. Are we really getting the opportunity to get points on a home team in the Conference finals? A team that has won 15 straight? A team that dismantled this week's opponent when they met earlier in the season? A team with the best defense in the league, the best run defense (80 yards per game) and a great running game? Pinch me, please. I've listened to the New England backers and they have some good points (mentioned above). But, some of the reasons I've heard this week just don't hold water in my book. They are based on recent performance or the "aura" of New England. The Steelers are lucky to be here having almost lost to the Jets last week. Yes, they are lucky. But don't confuse lucky with undeserving. Yes, Roethlisberger had a bad game and played like a rookie. But has everyone forgotten about the other 13 games in which he has played? He was facing an excellent defense - one as good as the vaunted Patriots. I personally believe that "scare" was good for the Steelers. They will in no way be feeling cocky. Also, I think they learned a good lesson - don't in any way put the game in Big Ben's hands. They did get away from their winning formula a bit last week and asked Ben to do too much. I believe the coaching staff learned their lesson and they will return this week to what has worked - pounding the ball with Bettis and Staley, asking Roethlisberger to make a few well timed throws and playing better defense than anyone. Let's also look at the positives from last week's Steelers' game. First of all, they won the game - I know it's obvious but let's not overlook it. The Steelers can overcome adversity and win. Second, their defense was AMAZING! The Jets offense scored just three points. The Steelers rushed for 193 yards against a defense that defends the run better than the Pats. And oh, by the way Pitt averaged 154 rushing yards per game this season and New England is 1-7 ATS over the past three seasons when they allow 150+ yards rushing. New England's defense is magical. What they did to Indy last week was nothing short of spectacular. But, Pitt is a very different matchup than was Indianapolis. New England shut down the top offense in the league. It wasn't so much the pressure on Manning as it was their play against the Indianapolis receivers. Even with the rule change, they were aggressive within the five-yard area and played assertive beyond that. So, I don't buy into the argument that Belichick will necessarily confuse Big Ben into submission. I think it's more about the ability of Pittsburgh's receivers to get open. And, I love that matchup. Unlike Indy, Pitt has big tough receivers. Plaxico Burress can out-muscle any of New England's secondary. And Hines Ward is as tough as they come. They will get open by playing as aggressive as New England does. Also, this game is not being played in Foxboro. This is a big deal. On the road, New England surrendered 6 points per game more than at home. Pitt matches up well against New England. They play smashmouth football as well as New England does. This is a very close even matchup and to get 3 points on a home team is a gift. Home underdogs are extremely rare in the NFL playoffs. Since 1982, there have been 13 of them. Those teams have gone 11-1-1 against the spread. Pitt is listening to everyone talk about the Pats this week. "Are they one of the best teams ever?" "Is Brady as good as Montana?" and on and on... The Steelers are getting very little respect here and this is got to be firing them up. Take Pitt here with the points. Two stars on Pittsburgh to cover the number and probably pull the upset.