We’re around the halfway point in the NFL season and it’s about now that the Pittsburgh Steelers and 31 other teams begin to clearly separate into three groups: playoff certainties, playoff contenders and no-hopers. If you’re planning to wager on upcoming games using one of the matched deposit bonuses available from NFL bookmakers, putting the teams you are analyzing into one of those groups can be a useful way to start your analysis.
It seems that among analysts and bettors at least, it is clear that Pittsburgh belongs in the no-hopers category, while the Indianapolis Colts still have playoff contention hopes. But what will that mean for their clash in Week 12 at Lucas Oil Field on November 28th?
Controversial hire gives Colts momentum
The decision to pluck NFL analyst Jeff Saturday from the TV studios to the head coaching role for the Colts was controversial for many reasons. It has been reported that Colts executives tried to talk owner Jim Irsay out of the interim hire, while others have pointed to his lack of coaching experience.
There were, however, some arguments in Saturday’s favor, not least of which was the fact that he was a respected member of the Colts roster that won Super Bowl XLI.
In the short term at least, the appointment has had the desired effect, as the Colts overcame a poor Las Vegas Raiders team in their first game under Saturday, and he has also shown assertiveness in insisting on Matt Ryan returning to the starting lineup.
There will, however, be far tougher challenges ahead. The Colts, who had lost three in a row prior to the Raiders game, have a 4-6-1 record and ground to make up on the Tennessee Titans, who currently lead the AFC South and a bunch of teams currently fighting for the final playoff spot.
That will almost certainly require a significant turnaround on offense. While the defense is doing a solid job, ranking just outside the top 10 for points allowed per game, the offense is 31st in the NFL.
Steelers bracing for losing season
Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in 15 years as an NFL head coach; this is a record-breaking statistic, but not one that looks likely to survive beyond this season.
The season started well enough, with a narrow victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but that was a rare early season highlight. They lost their next four to the Patriots, Browns, Jets and Bills, while subsequent defeats to the Dolphins and Eagles left them 3-6 going into Week 11.
The Steelers’ defense has not been as effective as expected, although they are still performing like a middle-of-the-pack defensive unit.
However, offensively, the Steelers have been poor. They rank 28th in the NFL for points averaged per game, and much of that under performance can be explained by a shaky offensive line and a running game that has failed to function for much of the season.
There have been, however, signs of improvement. A 20-10 victory over the admittedly awful Saints in Week 10 stopped another losing run and saw the Steelers record their best rushing performance of the season.
They registered 217 yards thanks to the efforts of Najee Harris, rookie Jaylen Warren and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett who contributed 51 rushing yards.
These two teams first met in 1950, at a time when the Colts were still based in Baltimore, but they played against one another only four times until 1974, sharing two wins apiece.
Since then, however, the Steelers have dominated this rivalry. Between 1978 and 2002, the Colts won only once against Pittsburgh, losing 13 times, including a run of nine consecutive defeats between 1985 and 2002.
Those games included the 1996/97 Wild Card matchup and the 1995/96 AFC Championship game, which the Steelers won by an aggregate score of 62-30.
The last win for the Colts came in 2008 and since then, they’ve lost seven in a row to the Steelers, with their latest defeat being a 28-24 loss in December 2020, following which both teams made the playoffs, but exited at the Wild Card stage.
Jonathan Taylor was the star of the Colts’ 2021 season and a key part of their offensive threat, finishing at the top of the NFL in rushing yards and making the top 10 of most of the key rushing stats, including being tied for second in the rushing and receiving touchdowns rankings.
A one-man offense, he has had a slow start to the season, but if he can rediscover some of that 2021 form in the second half of this season, he will give his new head coach a chance of guiding this team into playoff contention.
For the Steelers, the running game, led by Najee Harris will be their main weapon, but their key player has to be quarterback, Kenny Pickett. Chosen as the 20th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, expectations were not sky-high with Pickett, but since he has been asked to step in to replace Mitchell Trubisky, he has done a solid job.
With key defensive players returning to action and the offensive line improving, Pickett will have the chance to show what he can do with proper support from the rest of the lineup.
Which team will win?
This is a tough game to call. Neither team has very impressive stats, but both have shown encouraging signs with wins over weaker opponents in recent weeks.
The Colts are benefiting from the arrival of a popular new head coach, but the Steelers have more room for improvement and their progression feels more rooted in talent rather than attitude.
With the defensive unit starting to come together, and the offensive line improving, and with Tomlin’s experience and refusal to accept failure, Pittsburgh has more upside and can edge this one.