It has been bad, it can get worse, and it could become humiliating. How low can Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers go?
This deep into the season, it’s difficult to imagine a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback could be leading a winless team. But that’s the reality for Eli Manning and the New York Giants at 0-6, and Roethlisberger is not far behind at 0-4. The Steelers are terrible and close to throwing in the towel.
Pinning the blame on “Big Ben” as if he’s the donkey is the wrong thing to do, however. Sure, he has lost fumbles and thrown interceptions. That tends to happen when a quarterback is trying to carry a team that is falling apart, and the Steelers’ problems go deep.
Mike Tomlin is a good coach, and he’s done playing games. But the hiring of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator was an obvious mistake. Haley and Roethlisberger never have been on the same page in the playbook. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is poor, and its rushing attack ranks last in the NFL at 58 yards per game. The wide receivers are inexperienced.
The defense, which has not forced a turnover, is older than Andrew Dice Clay’s stand-up routine. Aside from all of that, the Steelers are fine.
Two weeks ago, in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings in London, Roethlisberger was a mad scrambler and a playmaker, completing 36 of 51 passes for 383 yards while nearly erasing a 17-point deficit.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell showed positive signs, picking up blitzes and running for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
The Steelers needed the bye to regroup, and if they don’t win Sunday as 2-point road underdogs to the New York Jets, say goodbye to their season. It’s probably already shot, but this is definitely their last shot.
The Jets, on the other hand, are feeling too good after a Monday night upset at Atlanta. New York ranks No. 2 in total defense and against the run, and Geno Smith made major strides by beating Matt Ryan on his home field. But rookie quarterbacks are inconsistent and unreliable, and Smith was awful in a 25-point loss at Tennessee two weeks ago.
The Jets, 3-2 straight up and 4-1 against the spread, are a huge surprise. The Steelers, 0-8 ATS including the preseason, are a gigantic flop but also overdue for a breakthrough, and I sense this is the week they cash a ticket.
I’ll ride with Roethlisberger, the far better quarterback, with his team in a better spot off the bye.
Four more plays for Week 6 (home team in CAPS):
■ Raiders (+8½) over CHIEFS: Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor has made major progress, and hopefully that continues against a tough Kansas City defense. The continuation of trends fuels this play — the Raiders have covered nine of their past 10 at Arrowhead Stadium, and the ’dog is 11-1 ATS the past six years in this AFC West rivalry.
■ PATRIOTS (-2) over Saints: I like to bet against a team that won impressively on Monday, but that backfired last week as the Saints went to Chicago and beat up the Bears. Drew Brees was sharp, Jimmy Graham continued to emerge as the league’s top tight end, and the New Orleans defense proved it’s no fraud. But the Saints are on the road again, and New England is 32-3 in its past 35 regular-season home games. I like to bet on the Patriots off a loss, because siding with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in this situation usually pays off.
■ Redskins (+5½) over COWBOYS: Tony Romo and the Cowboys should be encouraged after standing toe to toe with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a week ago. This is a key NFC East game, so it’s not a letdown spot. Still, Dallas is 5-17 ATS as a home favorite since the 2010 season. No statistics back up a strong case for Washington. However, the Redskins have covered six straight in this series, and quarterback Robert Griffin III put third-degree burns on the Cowboys last season.
■ CHARGERS (+1½) over Colts: Andrew Luck knows how to win. Philip Rivers finds ways to lose. This is mostly about the spot, though, and Indianapolis is in a tricky one after upsetting Seattle. San Diego is a live home ’dog on Monday.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.