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In Week 15, the 8-5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers did what nobody thought they could do, which is travel to Foxborough Stadium and beat Tom Brady’s New England Patriots on their home turf by a touchdown, final score 17-10.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been hot and cold all season, including in this win, where he completed 22-of-34 for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns but with two interceptions, bringing his season pick total to 15.
Pittsburgh is 4-2-1 on the road this season, and they’re undefeated against NFC teams (3-0), so it’s entirely possible they could take advantage of the Saints’ banged up offensive line and put enough pressure on Drew Brees to steal a win.
Every week the 12-2 New Orleans Saints look more and more like a Super Bowl team, even during their Week 15 squeaker over the Carolina Panthers with the low score of 12-9.
Saints’ Hall-of-Fame heading quarterback Drew Brees looked anything but GOAT-like in this away game, completing 23-of-35 for 203 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, just his 5th of the season, but still good for the win.
New Orleans is 5-1 at the Superdome, where they haven’t played in a month, so fans will be loud and ecstatic, and they’re undefeated against AFC teams (3-0) so it’s no wonder they’re favored to win this one and clinch home field advantage for the playoffs.
These two teams have met 15 times, with New Orleans winning 8 games and Pittsburgh winning 7 games. The Saints have won three of the last five meetings, their latest win in November of 2014 by a score of 35-32.
If the Steelers win this matchup, their record will be 9-5-1 and they will stay at least a half game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North as well keep their fourth seed in the playoffs.
But if the Saints, who have already clinched the NFC South, come out on top, they’ll be 13-2 and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the same conditions that led to their last Super Bowl win in 2010.
Who’s favored to win this Week 16 Steelers-Saints matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Steelers and the Saints and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The Steelers offense can effectively move the ball and score, averaging 406 total yards and 27.4 points per game.
Roethlisberger has thrown for the league’s second most yardage, 4,462 (his sixth 4,000+ yard season) and has 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions with a completion rate of just under 67 percent.
When it comes to passing targets, Big Ben has plenty – from his two 1000+ yard receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown to his two big-boned, soft-handed tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald.
Give it up for Steelers’ running backs coach James Saxon, currently in his fifth year, because every time a running back gets taken away from Pittsburgh – LeVeon Bell held out, James Conner injured his ankle – Saxon’s squad has had an answer.
With Conner out because of a high ankle sprain, backup Jaylen Samuels was given the start against the Patriots and he impressed with 19 carries for 142 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Running back James Conner (ankle) is listed as day-to-day.
On Wednesday, Conner told the media, “I am trying. It’s day-by-day. These high ankle sprains are deceiving. I can walk around fine, not limping. When I am out there on the field, cutting and stuff, it’s not ready yet.”
Talk about a powerful offense, the Saints score the second most points per game average (32.8) and move the ball 386 yards per game with a passing game ranked 11th and a rushing attack ranked 8th.
Brees has only thrown for the 12th most yards (3,666) in the NFL, but he’s ranked first in completion percentage (74.9) and is tied for the third most passing touchdowns (31), but the front line that’s kept him safe all season (just 15 sacks) is hurting this week (see below).
The New Orleans wide receiver that stands out is Michael Thomas, who’s caught for 1,267 yards and 8 touchdowns, ranked 7th in the league amongst his peers.
The Saints’ rushing attack is ranked 8th and averages almost 130 yards on the ground per game.
Alvin Kamara has followed up his All-Rookie season well with 264 touches for 1,487 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per touch.
Listed as questionable for Week 16: punter Thomas Morstead (ankle), offensive tackle Ryan Ramczykj (shoulder), guard Andrus Peat (shoulder), tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral), tackle Jermon Bushrod (hamstring) and center Max Unger (concussion).
Wide receiver Ted Ginn (knee) has been placed on injured reserve.
Opponents of the Steelers average 22.6 points and 334 total yards per game against Pittsburgh’s 6th ranked rush defense and 13th ranked pass defense.
The Steelers only have 7 team interceptions (T-27th) but they’ve totaled 46 sacks (T-2) and have 11 forced fumbles (T-21st).
Any time you watch the Steelers, you can’t help but hear outside linebacker T.J. Watt’s name being called, with 11.0 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, 58 combined tackles (11 for loss), 4 forced fumbles and 2 passes defended.
Also keep your eye on these two other sack specialists for the Steelers, nose tackle Javon Hargrave (6.5 sacks) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (6.0 sacks).
If you appreciate great pass coverage, watch for cornerback Joe Haden who has 2 interceptions, 12 passes defended and 57 combined tackles, 2 for loss.
Listed as questionable for Week 16: safety Terrell Edmunds (concussion) and linebacker Bud Dupree (knee).
The Saints only allow opponents to score an average of 20.9 points and move the ball 342 total yards per game with a rush defense ranked first overall and a pass defense ranked 28th.
New Orleans’ 12 interceptions is tied for 12th most in the league, and their 45 sacks (just one less than the Steelers) has them T-4th overall.
Outside linebacker Demario Davis is part of the 100+ tackle club with 103 combined tackles (10 for loss), 4.0 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 4 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles.
With 20 sacks between them, keep an eye on defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.0 sacks) and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (8.0 sacks).
The Saints secondary has been helped this season by cornerback Eli Apple and defensive back Chris Banjo, who have 2 interceptions apiece.
There are currently no Saints defensive players listed as injured.
Pittsburgh’s punter, Jordan Berry, is in his fourth year and has been a Steeler his whole career.
So far, Berry’s punted 56 times for a net average of 38.9 yards per punt, ranked 28th in the league.
New Orleans’ punter, Thomas Morstead, was a fifth-round draft pick back in 2009 and so far, he’s punted 35 times for a net average of 43.0 yards per punt, ranked 3rd in the league.
Morstead (ankle) is listed as questionable in Week 16 (see above) but currently there is no backup punter on the roster.
Pittsburgh’ placekicker, Chris Boswell, in his fourth year, has only ever been a Steeler in the NFL and so far he’s 11-for-18, his longest a 50-yarder.
Boswell has missed 5 extra point attempts (41/46).
New Orleans’ placekicker, Wil Lutz, in his third season, is 27-for-28, his longest a 54-yarder.
Lutz has missed one extra point attempt (46/47).
Pittsburgh’s punt returner, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, was All-Rookie last season and is currently ranked 26th in the league in return average.
Switzer has returned 27 punts for 232 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per return, his longest for 23 yards.
New Orleans’ punt returner, running back Alvin Kamara, is ranked 42nd in the league in return average.
Kamara has returned 12 punts for 82 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per return, his longest for 16 yards.
The odds makers have the Saints favored over the Steelers by 5.5 with an over/under of 53.
CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:
Pete Prisco goes with the over and has it Saints 31, Steelers 30
John Breech takes the over and the underdog and predicts it Steelers 34, Saints 31
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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