We have a doozy here on Thursday Night with a Week 9 matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers. The 4-3 Steelers host their second straight home game after a 20-10 defeat to Jacksonville in Week 8.
Will Levis debuted for the 3-4 Titans in their home victory against the Atlanta Falcons. We’ll take a look at these two teams and look to answer some QB questions.
The 2023 Steelers present an interesting conundrum. The defense is still good, ranking 9th in defensive DVOA, but hasn’t been the elite unit it was in 2022. They’re still getting elite pressure on the QB (6th in the league in pressure rate) but have not been nearly as good in the secondary.
Offensively, there aren’t many positives to take away from this Steelers season other than they’ve seemed to come up with points when it’s mattered most. I think at this point the Mike Tomlin accolade about never having a losing season is way overplayed, but still, is showing up in this season.
The Steelers have a Pythagorean win total of 2.5 but 4 actual wins to show for. Kenny Pickett and the Steelers offense have shown up in the fourth quarter of games with three of their four wins coming via fourth quarter comeback.
Pickett sustained a rib injury in the Jags game that forced Mitch Trubisky into action. As poor as Pickett has played in 2023, Trubisky didn’t do anything for the offense as it looked relatively the same.
Pickett was listed as a limited participant in the Steelers practice on Tuesday but commented to the media that he is definitely playing on Thursday. Mike Tomlin has yet to commit to Pickett as the starter for Thursday but it’s optimistic that Pickett is participating given the short turnaround this week.
For all his flaws as a passer, Pickett has shown a level of toughness in his young NFL career, and I do expect him to suit up Thursday Night. On defense the Steelers will be without their signal caller as Minkah Fitzpatrick is not expected to be available on Thursday.
On the other side, Titans fans are breathing a breath of fresh air seeing Will Levis under center and leading the offense to 28 points against Atlanta. Levis threw four touchdowns, including three to DeAndre Hopkins.
Levis looked like he gave the Titans some energy, creating a vertical threat that we haven’t seen from the Titans offense in a number of years with Ryan Tannehill or Marcus Mariota under center. I do want to pump the brakes a bit on the Levis hype, given the tape on his performance on Sunday.
While there were quite a few positive takeaways, I’m still concerned about his overall accuracy and worried that the luck factor played a large role in his numbers from Week 9. On Hopkins 60-yard touchdown, the DB seemed to give up on the play expecting to get an offensive pass interference call on a pass that was actually slightly underthrown.
Levis will face a bigger challenge in Week 9 as the Steelers will likely generate much more pressure than the Falcons did. Levis will face his first short week of preparation as the Titans starter and play his first NFL game on the road.
The Steelers are -2.5/-3 point favorites in this one, which seems like the easy answer from a bookmaker perspective, given where these two teams are at. I do think the Steelers luck has run out and they are a sub .500 team, but the question marks and difficult situational spot for the Titans is keeping me from backing them outright in this one.
Instead, we’ll look to tease up the Titans and pair them with the Saints at -7.5 this weekend. With a total as low as 36.5 the teaser spot is too good to pass up as those six points will be incredibly valuable in a game that could struggle to hit 30 total points.
We’ll make the Titans +8.5 / Saints -1.5 a 1.5% play here. I think we can also take advantage of the Steelers tendency to start slow, as they’ve been held scoreless in the first quarter in five of their seven games this season.
The 1H Under 17.5 is a good bet here at -110 as I have a hard time seeing these teams score more than two touchdowns in the first half coming off the short week. DraftKings currently has the line for total game touchdowns at 3.5 with the under at +100. I think that is worth a look as well.