Week 11 Thursday Night Football Preview: Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks
Published on November 14, 2017
titans-vs-steelers

In the Week 11 edition of Thursday Night Football, the Tennessee Titans are headed to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, completing what will be a stretch of four consecutive games against opponents in the AFC North.

After three consecutive wins against the Browns, Ravens, and Bengals, a win this week against the Steelers would make it a clean sweep of the North for the current leader of the AFC South.

Before these three wins, the Titans tacked on another win against the Indianapolis Colts, a division opponent, in Week 6, meaning that they head into this prime-time matchup in Week 11 riding a four-game win streak. On Thursday Night Football, they’ll try to push that streak up to 5.

However, there is one thing standing in their way, and that thing is none other than the Steelers themselves, who are riding a four-game win streak of their own. With a home win against the Bengals in Week 7, and three road wins over the Chiefs (in Week 6), the Lions (in Week 8), and the Colts (last week in Week 10, following their bye week), the Steelers have been on a roll.

Don’t look now, but I suspect that this game could potentially turn out to be a playoff preview.

According to the statisticians at 538, if the playoffs started today, the Steelers and the Titans would both be present. Based on their statistical model, the Steelers currently have the highest chance of making the playoffs of any team (above a 99% probability), and the Titans have the 8th-highest chance, which would also give them one of the 12 playoff spots.

In order to get a feel for these two teams and their status just past the midpoint of the season, let’s take a look at the paths that these two teams have traveled.

On the side of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the big story of their first month of the season was the inconsistent play from the offense. After starting out the season 2–0, the Steelers then lost two of their next three games, including a particularly bad 9–30 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently hold the same win/loss record as their division rival Tennessee Titans at 6–3.

The Steelers had a particularly atrocious game on offense against the Jaguars, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing five interceptions. In a season that had been full of distractions from the team’s biggest leaders, Big Ben added fuel to the fire after the game by saying to reporters: “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

But after this terrible 5-interception performance, the Steelers did what good teams do: they turned things around.

One short week after the national news media clamored that the Ben Roethlisberger era was done in Pittsburgh and that the team was headed for certain decline, the Steelers went to Arrowhead Stadium and handed the then-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the season, dominating the game with their defense and finally getting Le’Veon Bell involved, winning 19–13.

Subsequently, the Steelers won their next three games with the same mental and schematic approach: to utilize their quick, disciplined zone defense to limit opponents from getting big plays and to run the ball effectively with Le’Veon Bell. And at this point, at Week 11, this approach has brought them, after four consecutive wins, to a record of 7–2, tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the AFC.

On the other side, for the Tennessee Titans, the play on the field hasn’t been nearly as pretty over the last month, but the 4-game win streak is just as real for the standings.

The Tennessee Titans started out the first quarter of the season 2–2, which included some high highs and some very low lows. On the side of the highs, the bright spots included a single half of football in Week 2 against their division rival Jacksonville Jaguars in which the Titans outscored their opponent 31–13, as well as an important home win against the Seattle Seahawks the following week.

On the wide of the lows, however, the Titans also lost their star quarterback Marcus Mariota for multiple games in the opening half of the season, and lost a game to their division rival Houston Texans by an incredible 41 points, giving up 57 points total. Following this up-and-down start, the Titans subsequently rattled off four close wins, as I mentioned above, against the Colts, Browns, Bengals, and Ravens.

In this context, these two teams face off on Thursday Night Football to prove that they can contend.

  • Who: Tennessee Titans (6–3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7–2)
  • Where: Heinz Field. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • When: Thursday, November 16, 2017. 8:25 PM (EST) on NBC

And whether or not this game turns out to be a playoff preview, I’ve got you covered below with all the information you’ll need to make informed gambling decisions for the following bets:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

Now that we’re into the second half of the season, it’s time to start buckling down and really getting a feel for which teams have the staying power to make a run into the playoffs. And on this Thursday Night Football matchup, I have a feeling that these two teams will show us what they’re made of.

Titans vs. Steelers Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Titans +250
  • Steelers -310

In picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the two teams match up holistically, in order to determine which team will have the mental advantage in the game.

In my experience as a professional gambler, when a team is able to maintain its mental toughness for an entire 60-minute contest, they’ll generally end up winning the game. The reason for this is that the mental component of the game keeps them from making the kind of mistakes that end up turning the momentum to the other side.

These mistakes include errant throws, dropped balls, blown protection assignments, blown coverages, miscommunications, penalties, lost battles in the trenches, and a general lack of defensive gap-soundness. When these mistakes start to pile up, a team can easily get behind in the down and distance, see their defense get gassed, and in general, the game can just spiral out of control.

In this game, I foresee home field advantage having an impact on the mental toughness of the Titans.

It’s no secret that the Steelers are known for having a strong home field advantage, with the Terrible Towels of Steeler Nation out in full force wherever they go. Steeler fans are known for being amongst the best-traveling teams in the league, and that energy only compounds and grows when the team doesn’t have to travel at all.

But let me remind you that home-field advantage isn’t just some media buzzword. It often has a real and tangible impact on a game, especially this game.

The mechanism by which home field advantage operates is that a home team’s fans will get loud only when the visiting team’s offense is on the field. (In some cases in the past, the home team’s stadium crew would actually pipe in artificial noise through the speaker system in the stadium, to make things even more difficult for the visiting team’s offense.)

When the crowd gets loud, the visiting team’s quarterback can often have a host of difficulties related to communication. He may have difficulty hearing the play call from his coach; he may have difficulty communicating that play call to his teammates; he may have difficulty changing protection schemes at the line of scrimmage with his offensive line. He may even have difficulty hearing himself think.

In this way, home field advantage especially affects young, inexperienced quarterbacks and O-lines. And this is not good news for the Titans.

Now, I should clarify that the Tennessee Titans do not have a bad offensive line. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked their offensive line #1 in the league last season – even ahead of the vaunted Dallas Cowboys squad. And Marcus Mariota is no longer an inexperienced quarterback.

But this season, not only have the midseason rankings for the Titans’ offensive line gone down significantly, but they’ve also shown themselves to be susceptible to penalties.

Despite the fact that the Titans have committed the third-fewest penalties in the entire league (tied with the Minnesota for 51 penalties this season), an incredible 13 of those 51 penalties – over 25% – have been committed by the offensive line.

Breaking it down even further, 8 of the Titans’ penalties have been committed by starting left tackle Taylor Lewan (the former 1st-round draft pick, now in his 4th year, who went to his first Pro Bowl last season) and starting right tackle Jack Conklin (the former 1st-round draft pick from a season ago, who was named to the First-Team All-Pro as a rookie).

Against a team like the Steelers, in a stadium like Heinz Field, I see the Titans’ O-line getting jumpy.

And watching the tape on the Titans over the course of this season, it’s been clear that offensive line penalties, combined with other unforced mental errors that don’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet, have impacted the play from the Titans this season. Tennessee has seen too many drives stall or end without points due to unnecessary mental mistakes.

Furthermore, I’d like to also point out the fact that the Titans have been without starting left guard Quinton Spain for the last two games due to a turf toe injury. You would think, with this type of injury, that the Titans would be loath to play him for a Thursday Night Game, and will probably rest him for one more game to give him the 10-day “mini bye week” to recover further.

The Titans played their last two games at home, where the injury to Spain wouldn’t have affected their offensive line communication as much. It could become a problem for the first time in Pittsburgh.

Backup players are backup players for a reason: If they were good enough to start, they would. The Titans have had unusually good luck with offensive line continuity this season: Aside from Quinton Spain, the other four members of their starting O-line have missed a combined 11 snaps. In the first road game without their starting five, I foresee the home field advantage for the Steelers to show through.

In addition, you need to always remember that Thursday Night Football games are wonky. The game generally seems to be decided within the first ten minutes.

As I mentioned in the introduction above, both of these teams are rolling, each coming off of a four-game win streak. But the Steelers have played much tougher games, three of them on the road, while the Titans have barely squeaked out their wins, with three out of four played at home. And their one road win in the last four games was against the Browns, which ended up going into overtime.

I believe that the Steelers are the much more confident and capable team at this point in the season, and I see them coming out and winning the mental battle within the first 10 minutes of game time. I like the coaching, leadership, and home-field advantage for Pittsburgh to lead to a Steeler win in this one.

Pick: Steelers to win

FootballSpread
  • Titans +7 (-110)
  • Steelers -7 (-110)

Now that I’ve made my pick straight-up for moneyline odds, that the Steelers ride their home field advantage to a win in this one, capitalizing on the mistakes made by the Titans, it’s now time to ask the question of whether the Steelers will win by more than 7 points.

In picking games against the spread, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In my experience, when a team is able to stay mentally tough enough to win the game and also matches up well enough against the losing team’s defense to score points, they’ll generally win both straight-up and against the spread. On the other hand, when the losing team’s defense can generate stops, they’ll often keep the game close enough to cover the spread.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the ATS bet is the Steelers’ offense vs. the Titans’ defense.

The Steelers’ offense has gotten some bad press lately. The team won by 3 points on the road last week against the Indianapolis Colts, but the final score leaves out the fact that the team was down by 14 points in the third quarter and needed to come back. The Steelers were held to 3 points in the first half by a team that has been in the bottom third of the league in essentially all statistical categories on D.

And the numbers tell the story. Ben Roethlisberger’s completion percentage so far this season (61.1%) is the lowest since 2012, which was the last time he switched offensive coordinators (to current play caller Todd Haley). His passer rating on the season (83.8) is also the lowest it has been since Todd Haley took over as coordinator.

Roethlisberger has also been significantly less accurate on the deep ball this season, completing just 14 of his 52 passes this season that have traveled 20+ yards downfield.

And it’s not like you can put all the blame on his receivers, either: According to the stat gurus at Pro Football Focus, only 30.2% of these 52 passes were even catchable balls, which is well below the league average of 37.5%.

In this context, the question becomes: Why in the world isn’t Pittsburgh’s offense the same dynamic powerhouse that it has been in years past? What changed?

The first and most obvious question to ask is does Ben Roethlisberger have it anymore? At 35 years old, it’s clear that the veteran QB’s age is weighing on him, as he openly questioned whether he would return to football during this past offseason, and also said to reporters “maybe I don’t have it anymore” after throwing five interceptions against the Jaguars in Week 5.

In my opinion, it’s clear that Big Ben is not the same quarterback he used to be. But he is still elite.

The Steelers probably can’t call all the same plays they used to call, because Ben probably can’t make all the throws he used to make. But he can still effectively lead the team, even through a full 16-game season (or even a 20-game season if the Steelers were to make the Super Bowl). This is more than you can say about the rest of his QB draft class, including Eli Manning, Phil Rivers, and Matt Schaub.

In addition, I should point out that I said above you can’t place all of the blame on Pittsburgh’s receivers. But you can (and you should) place some of the blame on the receivers.

First and foremost, it stands out to me that the Steelers have a lack of maturity in the wide receiver room. Antonio Brown is a team leader, and he should know that flipping water coolers on the sideline is going to be a distraction for the team. Martavis Bryant is not a team leader, but he should still know better than to openly call out his teammates and blab to the media that he wants to be traded.

In addition to maturity, though, it’s also clear to me that the Steelers need more playmakers at the wide receiver position. I mentioned above that Big Ben has completed 14 of his 52 downfield throws. Incredibly, 13 of those 14 completions have gone to either Antonio Brown or rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, which doesn’t say much for the production from the rest of the receiving corps.

In addition to Big Ben’s age and the play of the receivers, though, Todd Haley deserves some blame.

Over and above individual production from individual players, an offensive coordinator is responsible for finding a way to generate scoring drives and to put points on the board regardless of what personnel he has available. It’s an offensive coordinator’s job to creatively find a way to score touchdowns, somehow, someway.

The Steelers have only scored more than two touchdowns in a game one time this season, and they haven’t scored more than 30 points yet this season.

And in an NFL where teams like the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles are not just scoring more than 30 points per game, they’re averaging more than 30 points per game, it’s obvious that in certain situations – particularly in the postseason – the Steelers are going to need to score more than 30 points if they’re going to need to compete.

And it’s going to be very difficult against a defense that has only allowed 30+ points once this season and averaged 23.7 points allowed per game.

In fact, if you don’t count this abnormal 57-point bed-wetting against the Houston Texans (which alone accounts for over 25% of the total points allowed by Tennessee all season), the Titans are averaging only 19.5 points per game, which would rank in the top 10 in the league.

If the Steelers are going to turn things around and Todd Haley is going to flip their offense into the high-powered juggernaut that it has been in years past, it’s not going to happen overnight. And I think that the four-day week full of walkthroughs and riddled with injuries that accompanies a Thursday Night Football game is not exactly the time to do it.

I don’t see any way that the Steelers lose this game, but I don’t see any way they win by more than a TD.

Pick: Steelers to win by less than 7

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 44 (-110)
  • Under 44 (-110)

Now that I’ve made my prediction for the Steelers to win this game at home, capitalizing off of mistakes made by Tennessee, but for the Titans to hold the “good-enough” Pittsburgh offense to less than a 7-point margin of victory, it’s now time to take a look at the question of whether this will be a generally high- or low-scoring game.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In my experience, when a team is able to both score points on offense and able to generate stops on defense, they’ll generally be able to control the timing and flow of the game to such a degree that the total score will go under. On the other hand, if the losing team is also able to score points on offense, the game will often turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the total score over/under is Pittsburgh’s D vs. Tennessee’s O.

So far, through nine games this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of the best defenses in the entire league. Their average of 16.4 points allowed per game ranks 2nd in the league (behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars), and they have proven to be the immovable object that not only stopped the “unstoppable force” that was the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, but gave the rest of the league a blueprint for how to do the same.

One of the biggest reasons for the Steelers’ success on offense is that they’re healthy: even though Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell went down, they got Stephon Tuitt back.

With big #91 back anchoring the defensive line, the unit that ranks 23rd in the league in opposing yards-per-carry average (4.2 yards per attempt) has gotten significantly stouter up front, allowing 71 rush yards per game in each of its last three games, and 28 rush yards in the game against the Chiefs in Week 6 that kicked off their current 4-game win streak.

The Steelers’ run defense will have to continue to improve if they hope to hold the two-headed rushing attack for the Tennessee Titans in check.

So far this season, the Titans are ranked 7th in the league in rushing yards and 2nd in the league in rushing touchdowns, with an impressive average of 4.4 yards per carry. The whole run unit is impressive, from the league’s best offensive line a season ago (which is better in run blocking than in pass protection), as well as two quality running backs, as well as a very mobile quarterback.

The top three rushers for the Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Marcus Mariota.

So far this season, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have split carries almost exactly, with Murray gaining 433 yards and 4 touchdowns on 109 carries (4.0 yards per carry), and Henry gaining 409 yards and 3 touchdowns on 94 carries (4.4 yards per carry). Mariota chips in 181 yards and three touchdowns of his own on 32 scrambles (5.7 yards per carry) for a total of over 1,000 rushing yards in nine games.

If you combined the stats for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry into a single player, that back would just about tie Le’Veon Bell for the league lead with 842 yards.

The Murray-Henry combination would also tie with Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead in rushing touchdowns, with 7.

In this way, it’s clear just how prolific the Titans running game has been thus far. And while the production hasn’t quite been there in the passing game (Mariota’s 1,783 passing yards ranks 23rd in the league, and his 7 passing touchdowns ranks 29th), this hasn’t slowed down the Titans’ offense too much, with their average of 22.8 points per game ranked a respectable 13th in the league.

When the Titans don’t shoot themselves in the foot with mental mistakes, they have a lot of options.

No matter which running back is in the game, Tennessee can run the ball in any direction with success. With tight end Delanie Walker leading the team in targets and receptions, they have a dynamic, tall receiving threat who has earned the trust of Marcus Mariota. With both backs catching balls out of the backfield, they have an effective screen game. And then, of course, Mariota can run, too.

Ultimately, however, I think that the Pittsburgh defense matches up well against Tennessee in terms of passing offense. If the Titans are going to move the ball, it’s going to be in the ground game.

In terms of the over/under bet, I foresee this game lying just in that sweet spot where the Titans should be able to run the ball enough to sustain drives and make the game go quick, but not enough to get into the end zone and score points when the Steelers’ defense tightens up in the red zone.

I advise taking the under.

Pick: Titans 20, Steelers 23

FootballProp Bets

Now that I’ve established my overall prediction for the game – that the Steelers win the game at home, capitalizing off of the mistakes I expect to see from the Titans, that Tennessee’s defense holds Pittsburgh’s discombobulated offense to few points, and that the Titans’ running offense slows down the game enough to keep the total score under – it’s now time to look at prop bets.

Specifically, here are the bets that I believe hold value in this game, and capitalize off of the view of the game described above:

  • Total successful Pittsburgh field goals to go over.
  • The Tennessee Titans to go over for rushing yards. The two-headed attack of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry has propelled the Titans to a rushing average of 4.4 yards per carry (7th-best in the league). Meanwhile, the Steelers average 4.2 yards allowed (7th-worst in the league).
  • Ben Roethlisberger to go under his posted total for passing yards. Not only have the Steelers been unsuccessful in downfield passing offense, they’ve also been moving away from this strategy. And with the Titans sporting a stout passing defense, I don’t foresee many throws.

In addition to these prop bets that you can watch unfold live during the game, I also believe that the following future bets also hold value:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North. As I mentioned in the introduction above, the statisticians at 538 give the Steelers the highest probability of making the playoffs in the league (>99%). Pittsburgh also has the highest probability of winning their division in the league (97%).
  • Le’Veon Bell to win the rushing title. Believe it or not, Le’Veon Bell has just taken over the league lead in rushing yards this week. With Ezekiel Elliott suspended and rookies Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette not built for winter football, I like Bell’s odds to get the rushing title.
  • The Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South. Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson are both out for the season, meaning that the Titans have the best quarterback in the division. And even though the Jags have played well, I can’t overemphasize the fact that they only won 3 games last year.

In order to bring your gambling to the next level, it’s important that you go beyond simply betting on individual games. When you watch game film, you also have to make sure that you’re keeping an eye out for future bets you might want to make down the line. This Thursday night, keep your eyes peeled for any clues that might tip you off for the bets above, and thank me later.

Summary: Best Bets

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans are both fresh off of four-game win streaks, and looking to solidify their place as genuine playoff contenders as we move into the final half of the season. For the Titans, a win in Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football would give them a clean sweep of the AFC North, as they are coming off of three consecutive wins over the Browns, Bengals, and Ravens.

However, I don’t believe that the Titans will pull it off, as the home field advantage for the Steelers should force too many unforced errors for them to play a clean game. I do think that the Titans’ defense will be able to hold Pittsburgh’s O below a 7-point win margin, but it won’t be enough to win. Even with some success running the ball on offense for the Titans, I foresee Pittsburgh continuing to roll.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are my best bets:

  • Steelers -310 moneyline
  • Titans +7 against the spread (-110)
  • The total score to go under 44 (-110)
  • Total successful Pittsburgh field goals to go over
  • The Tennessee Titans to go over for rushing yards
  • Ben Roethlisberger to go under his posted total for passing yards

According to some statistical models, if the playoffs started today, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans would both be playing in the postseason. But there’s a reason why we have a 16-game season, and this Week 11 edition of Thursday Night Football should show us something about who’s really going to stick around when it’s all said and done.

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