The worst is over. At least that’s what the Steelers have to hope.
If there’s a team that played a more difficult four-game slate of games than the one the Steelers just got through, it’s not apparent.
There were road games at Buffalo, Miami and Philadelphia sandwiching a home game against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.
And that was what rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett faced in his first four career starts.
Prior to coach Mike Tomlin inserting Pickett into the starting lineup, there was a vocal concern that perhaps he shouldn’t do so heading into that stretch of games.
Now, there’s a vocal group of Steelers fans who are already wondering if Pickett is the long-term answer. This despite the fact his first four career starts have come against teams with a combined 22-9 record and that the Bills and Eagles are a combined 14-1 after Philadelphia beat Houston Thursday night.
The shock value of those losses to the Bills and Eagles – 38-3 in Buffalo and 35-13 last weekend in Philadelphia – have soured Steelers fans. That’s understandable. But they also should understand that the Bills have won their home games by an average score of 35-9. The Eagles have won four home games by an average score of 31-15.
The Titans, Vikings and Cowboys have combined to lose only five games. Three of those losses have come against the Bills and Eagles on the road. And those games haven’t been close.
Has Pickett played great? No. But he’s also not been overwhelmed by the process. Steelers fans have seen what that looks like over the years when a rookie quarterback comes to Pittsburgh. It’s often not been pretty.
Pickett will be fine. Better days are ahead. Per Football Outsiders’ metrics, the Steelers have played the NFL’s most difficult schedule to this point. And it’s really not even close. Going forward, they play the league’s 21st-toughest schedule.
Let’s see what Pickett looks like over the next month, when he plays a couple of home games and also doesn’t face two of the league’s top three teams, before we throw him out with the bath water.
- The trade of wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Bears was a deal too good to pass up for the Steelers, who also had an offer on the table from the Packers for their second-round pick.
The Steelers took the Bears’ offer because they feel Chicago’s second-round pick should be in the top 50 of next year’s draft.
- According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, the Steelers have played the No. 2, 4, 5, 6 and 9 defenses.
In the second half of the season, they will play only one defense currently ranked in the top 11. And that comes against Cincinnati in two weeks.
- The Penguins lost six consecutive games prior to Saturday night’s home game against the Seattle Kraken.
To put that into perspective, that would be the same as the Pirates, who play right around twice as many games in their schedule, going on a 12-game losing streak.
This week’s games
Panthers (plus 7½) at Bengals: The Bengals got embarrassed by Cleveland’s running game last Monday night. It marked the third time in their past four games they’ve allowed 155 or more rushing yards to an opponent. Carolina has surprisingly found its rushing attack since trading running back Christian McCaffrey. Take the Panthers to cover in a 27-21 loss
Ravens (minus 2½) at Saints: The Saints are coming off a shutout win over the Raiders, 24-0, but the Ravens’ offense is a different animal. Will Baltimore work new linebacker Roquan Smith into this game? New Orleans is a tough place to play, but Lamar Jackson on the turf should be dynamite. This will be a big game for Steelers fans to watch Monday night. The Steelers get the Saints coming off the bye week, while they still have to play the Ravens twice. Take the Ravens, 27-20
Titans (plus 12½) at Chiefs: The Titans have won five consecutive games since getting blown out 41-7 in Buffalo in Week 2. But the wins have come against the Colts (twice), Commanders, Raiders and Texans. See, schedules do matter. Despite that winning streak, they’re nearly two-touchdown underdogs here. And it’s for a reason. Take the Chiefs, 34-13
Bills (minus 11½) at Jets: Let’s see, Josh Allen versus Zach Wilson. Allen played about as poorly as he could have last week and the Bills still beat the Packers by 10. The Jets are better, but they’re not good enough to keep this close. Take the Bills, 31-16
Chargers (minus 3) at Falcons: No Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa or J.C. Jackson for the Chargers. That doesn’t sound promising. Nor does a 1 p.m. start for a West Coast team, which will be playing at 10 a.m. their time. The Chargers also allow a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry. Atlanta will run the ball all day. Take the Falcons, 23-20
Last week: 1-4 ATS; 3-2 straight up
Overall: 15-23-2 ATS; 22-18 straight up.