Take underdog Steelers to cover against Saints on Halloween

Off the field, Ben Roethlisberger has been a wreck, whether flying off a motorcycle or finding trouble with women from Lake Tahoe to Georgia. But he claims he’s a better man now.

Football handicappers care little about all that. What is obvious is the Pittsburgh Steelers will be a much better team with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

The Steelers (5-1) are arguably the NFL’s top team heading into Week 8, and Roethlisberger has played only two games.

A punishing defense, with safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison leading the charge, carried Pittsburgh during Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension. Finally, all the pieces are in place.

The same can’t be said of the New Orleans Saints, who have fallen apart since winning the Super Bowl. The Saints (4-3) are a pitiful 1-5-1 against the spread, but it’s worse than that.

New Orleans was a 12½-point home favorite in a 30-17 loss to Cleveland in Week 7. The worst part? Browns punter Reggie Hodges ran 68 yards on a fake to set up a score in the second quarter.

Think about that. A punter ran 68 yards up the middle of the field, and what that showed is the Saints are asleep at the wheel.

Their offense is sluggish, their defense is not forcing turnovers, and their special teams are a laughingstock.

Drew Brees has thrown 10 interceptions, one fewer than all of last season. Injured running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas remain out.

One theory is the loss to Cleveland was a wake-up call, the Saints are desperate for a win, and the Superdome crowd will be rocking on Halloween night. All that is true.

But the Steelers are the better team, especially defensively, and I’ll side with them as 2-point underdogs Sunday.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 8-2 as an underdog. New Orleans has covered one of its past eight home games.

Four more plays for Week 8 (Home team in CAPS):

■ COWBOYS (-6½) over Jaguars: Tony Romo (broken collarbone) is out, a devastating long-term setback for Dallas. But with Jon Kitna at quarterback, the Cowboys can go back to Felix Jones, Marion Barber and the running attack to revive the offense. Jacksonville’s four losses were by an average of 24.8 points.

■ Dolphins (+2) over BENGALS: Miami coach Tony Sparano can’t win at home, but he’s 14-4 ATS on the road. Cincinnati is the league’s worst favorite, going 5-18 ATS in its past 23 when laying points.

■ Titans (+3½) over CHARGERS: There is a “good chance” Vince Young (sprained left knee) will start at quarterback for Tennessee, according to coach Jeff Fisher. The Titans are 3-0 on the road. San Diego, under Norv Turner’s clumsy leadership, continues to lose so-called must-win games.

■ Vikings (+6) over PATRIOTS: Expect Brett Favre to start for Minnesota, if only to keep his streak alive. If his streak dies, Tarvaris Jackson is a capable backup quarterback. New England coach Bill Belichick is 14-15-1 ATS in his past 30 as a favorite, and he’s laying points against a better Vikings defense.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 19-13-3

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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