At their best, the Pittsburgh Steelers can appear to be one of the NFL’s most complete teams. When the defense is healthy and strong and running back Le’Veon Bell is grinding out tough yards, it’s a tough team to beat.
Ben Roethlisberger might not be the quarterback he once was, but he still has the ability to get hot and dominate.
Right now, the New Orleans Saints are at their worst, dropping three consecutive home games to slide to 4-7 in the downtrodden NFC South.
“The Saints are not the same,” Las Vegas handicapper Mike Scalleat said. “The Saints burned me a couple times this year. You wonder, do they have it or not? Now I know they don’t have it.”
Scalleat is siding with the Steelers as 4½-point favorites over the Saints today. Pittsburgh (7-4) is 4-1 at home and in the hunt for first in the AFC North, and coach Mike Tomlin will get at least two starters — safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor — back to boost the defense.
Bell is fourth in the league with 951 yards rushing. Roethlisberger ranks fifth with 3,270 yards passing to go with 24 touchdowns.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is pleasing most fantasy owners by passing for 3,491 yards and 22 touchdowns, but his season has turned into something of a nightmare. The Saints are 1-4 on the road, and the offense clearly misses running back Darren Sproles, who was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason.
“Once the Saints got rid of Sproles, they took a step back,” said Scalleat, who went 5-0 in Week 12 and 2-0 on Thanksgiving in the Westgate SuperContest. “Brees has nowhere to go on third down because (tight end) Jimmy Graham gets double-teamed.
“Tomlin talks tough. I don’t think he’s as good as everybody else thinks he is. But the Steelers are getting some key defensive players back, and I like them coming off a bye week.”
Scalleat, who finished fourth in the SuperContest in 2007, scouts the rest of today’s Week 13 schedule:
■ Washington at Indianapolis (-9½): Colt McCoy is an upgrade at quarterback for the Redskins. Robert Griffin III was not playing well, but the team still had a shot to win at San Francisco last week. McCoy started in the win at Dallas, and I like this kid more than Griffin. Indianapolis is 8-3 ATS, and Andrew Luck is usually a good bet. But this is a big number for the Colts to cover. Plus-10 is available at some books, so I’ll take the points with the Redskins.
■ Tennessee at Houston (-7): The Texans are forced to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. He went 4-5 as the starter before getting benched. Fitzpatrick is a disaster, but the Titans are no bargain. Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger will struggle for Tennessee, which lost the first meeting 30-16 a month ago. Running back Arian Foster appears ready to return, so that’s a positive for Houston. But these are two inept offenses, and I don’t see these quarterbacks putting up many points. I lean under the total (42½).
■ Cleveland at Buffalo (-3): With this line moving toward 3½, I’m not going to lay the points with the Bills. The Browns (7-4) are in the playoff race more so than the Bills. This game means more for Cleveland. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer looks good sometimes, and sometimes he doesn’t look good at all, but this team is 3-2 on the road and hangs in a lot of games. This is a tough call. I lean to the Browns.
■ San Diego at Baltimore (-6): This is a game I bet. I took the points with the Chargers. Look for Philip Rivers to put points on the board, and Ryan Mathews can move the ball on the ground for San Diego. The Ravens’ front seven on defense is strong, but their secondary is weak. The Chargers were blown out in their last East Coast trip to Miami, but they are 7-4 and right in the playoff race. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is too erratic. I think this game will be decided by a field goal.
■ New York Giants (-3) at Jacksonville: When I first looked at this game, I liked the Giants. But Eli Manning has thrown 12 interceptions, including a bad one that probably cost New York a win against Dallas last week. Manning has won two Super Bowls, but I don’t know how. He’s had some really bad games and bad years. But what do you do with Jacksonville? The Jaguars are 1-10, and the Giants are 3-8, so these are teams going nowhere. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback, is going through a lot of growing pains. In his past five games, Bortles has four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. I lean under the total (45).
■ Cincinnati (-3½) at Tampa Bay: It hurts me to say this, but I would take the Buccaneers. This is the Bengals’ third straight road game, and quarterback Andy Dalton has his struggles on the road. I can’t trust Dalton in this spot. The half-point might make the difference in the bet. There are a lot of ugly games on this schedule, and this is one.
■ Oakland at St. Louis (-6½): The Raiders finally got their first win, upsetting Kansas City on a Thursday night, so they had extra time to rest for this game. Oakland has played well at times for coach Tony Sparano. I could see them hanging with the Rams, who are a self-destruction team. It’s a big number to lay for a team such as St. Louis. The Raiders have covered three of their past four games, and I lean to the ’dog, especially if you can get plus-7.
■ Carolina at Minnesota (-2½): This is another game in which I lean to the ’dog, mostly because of the line. It tells you something if the home favorite is not strong enough to lay 3. The Panthers are not playing well, losing five in a row to fall to 3-7-1, but they are in the NFC South race and off a bye. I think Carolina quarterback Cam Newton will have a good game, and Minnesota rookie Teddy Bridgewater will struggle.
■ Arizona (-2) at Atlanta: The Falcons are due for a good game, but Mike Smith is a terrible coach who should get fired. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a game-time decision with a left knee injury. It looks as if Fitzgerald could play, and quarterback Drew Stanton needs the help. I don’t like road favorites, but there are some reasons to like Arizona. The Cardinals can run the ball, their defense is strong, Bruce Arians is the better coach, and this is a good team coming off a loss. I look for Arizona to get back on the winning track.
■ New England at Green Bay (-3): The Patriots are 9-2, so they are still in good shape with a loss here. The Packers (8-3) need the win to keep a one-game lead over Detroit in the NFC North. I hate to go against the Patriots, so I’ll play this over the total of 58 in a shootout. The stats for these quarterbacks are unbelievable. Tom Brady has 26 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Aaron Rodgers is even better with 30 touchdowns and three interceptions. I could see this score being something like 35-30.
■ Denver (-1½) at Kansas City: Look for the Chiefs to run the ball with Jamaal Charles, run the clock and try to keep Peyton Manning off the field. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith does not make many mistakes. The Broncos are not as good as last year. The Dolphins scored 36 points last week and had them on the ropes. Kansas City is a tough place to play. I look for the Chiefs to win the game.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS