Steelers try to snap out of slide against Colts

LEFT: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the Indianapolis Colts on a pass play during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 13, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 27 to 20. (Photo by Don Ju

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the majority of the season as the NFL’s top team. The last unbeaten squad after winning 11 straight with a tremendous head coach, a veteran quarterback with Super Bowl rings on the finger and a young, exciting corps of dynamic offensive weapons.

Then, December came around. The dynamic offense has sputtered. The weapons have been muted. The veteran quarterback looks old. And the Steelers have looked anything but a Super Bowl contender in dropping three straight games to Washington, Buffalo and Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh will try to regain some of the old magic that built an 11-0 record before the three straight defeats. It won’t be easy as 10-4 Indianapolis- looking for the AFC South crown itself- heads into Heinz Field Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) for a marquee game on a rich holiday weekend slate.

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The sports betting information

On Sportsbook, the Colts are 2 point road favorites with a money line of minus-125. (A $125 bet is needed to win $100.) The Steelers are +105 on the money line (a $100 bet will pay off in $105 of winnings.) The over-under is 45 points.

These are two very good teams on the number, with both going 8-6 against the spread. Indianapolis has seen 8 of its 14 games to this point go over while Pittsburgh is 5-7-2 on the over/under number.

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The history

The series between two of the three teams that moved from the NFL to the AFC at the 1970 merger- Cleveland is the other- has been dominated by Pittsburgh. The Steelers carry a 24-6 advantage in the series, including 5-0 in the post-season. Pittsburgh has won six straight in the series dating back to 2011 – including last year’s 26-24 win at Heinz Field. The quarterbacks in that November game were Mason Rudolph for the Steelers and Brian Hoyer for the Colts, so looking at that for clues for this year may not be a good barometer since Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers are scheduled to start this year’s games for Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The storylines to watch

Where has it gone off the rails for the Steelers in the past three weeks? Look no further than the Steelers offense. Pittsburgh began the season with five straight rushing performances of over 100 yards. Over the past three weeks, they have 154 rushing yards combined. Roethlisberger and the passing game have back-to-back weeks of under 200 yards in the passing game. In the first 11 weeks of the season, the Steelers offense turned the ball over 11 times. In the last three weeks, Pittsburgh has turned it over six times – including three on Monday night to the Bengals. Beyond the sideshow of storylines like Juju Smith-Schuster TikTok dancing on opponent’s logos, the real issue is the offense is falling apart and under producing.

The Colts, however, continue to do just enough to hold in the race against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. Last year’s 27-20 win over Houston hardly was the stuff of legend but consider that the Colts have gone three straight weeks  without a turnover while forcing their opponent to cough the ball up seven times.  Indianapolis is 3-0 in those games. For the season, the Colts are +13 on the turnover ratio – a sign of a really good team. The Colts are also remarkably balanced offensively with 10 of 14 games featuring over 100 team rushing yards. That helps off-set any issues that Rivers may have as a passer- Indy hasn’t thrown for over 300 passing yards since Week 6.

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