By: Rich Bergeron
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Spread: Bucs +7.0 (20/21), Steelers -7.0 (20/23)
Money Line: Bucs 13/5 (3.60), Steelers 5/16 (1.31)
Over Under: 45 points
For a team that made so many key-season moves designed to strengthen both sides of the ball, Tampa Bay is by no means living up to their NFL potential so far this season. Their winless start through the first three weeks is nothing new after the team ended last year with three straight losing efforts. The latest Bucs loss has to sting, though, with Atlanta putting 56 points on the board to Tampa Bay’s 14 last Thursday. They’ve had a long week to think about it and try to make sense of what went wrong, but they might just be going from the Atlanta frying pan into the Pittsburgh fire this weekend.
The 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Bucs this week, and these two teams couldn’t be on more divergent paths. Ben Roethlisberger (67-101, 778 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) and Antonio Brown (296 yards on 22 catches) are firing on all cylinders with Brown accounting for all three of Big Ben’s touchdown throws this season. The Buccaneers offense pales in comparison with QB Josh McCown compiling just 420 yards through the air so far on 43 completions with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Backup Mike Glennon has 121 yards in relief with a touchdown on 17 completions out of 24 attempts. McCown, who is suffering from a thumb injury, also has the team’s only two rushing scores with leading Running Back Bobby Rainey accumulating just 197 yards on the ground so far. The Steelers have running tandem Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combining for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Bell also chalked up 146 passing yards already.
Defensively, the Steelers are hurting, quite literally. The team recently lured James Harrison out of retirement in the wake of losing linebackers Jarvis Jones (fractured wrist) and Ryan Shazier (sprained right knee). Cornerback Ike Taylor is also sidelined with a broken right forearm. Still, the Steelers seem far more impressive on paper than the Bucs do. Tampa Bay’s defense is just not the same after the relocation of Revis Island to New England. Atlanta put up 488 total yards on Tampa Bay last Thursday, earning 26 first downs. The Tampa Bay offense also turned the ball over five times.
The Steelers have the overwhelming odds in their favor here with 8 wins in nine meetings between these two teams. Considering the fact that these two squads seem to be moving in such different directions, there’s no reason to suggest Tampa Bay will be able to squeak out the second victory of the series Sunday.
Prediction: The Steelers use this Tampa Bay match as a tune up game, flexing their passing and running muscle and coasting on defense. Pittsburgh puts up three touchdowns before the half to just one for the Bucs. The Steelers keep it locked down on both sides of the ball in the second half, cruising to a 34-13 win.