The NFL is finally giving us a Thursday night game that everyone can sink their teeth into as the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Carolina Panthers. At home, the Steelers are currently listed as 3.5-point favorites over Carolina with an over/under of 52 points.
Outside of the Saints and Rams, the Steelers may be the hottest team in the NFL right now. They have won four games in a row following last week’s road win over the Ravens to avenge a loss earlier this year. Of course, at 5-2-1, the Steelers have a slim lead over the Bengals at the top of the AFC North, so they need to stay hot if they want to hang onto first place.
The Panthers aren’t exactly ice cold either. Carolina is currently riding a three-game winning streak that has seen them knock off the Eagles, Ravens, and Buccaneers. However, they still find themselves chasing New Orleans in the NFC South despite being 6-2 midway through the season. That leaves the Panthers with little choice but to keep winning in order to give themselves a shot at overtaking the Saints in the division.
For most of the season, the Carolina offense has been middle of the pack at best due to some limitations in their passing game. However, there has been a sudden explosion the last few weeks, causing MVP chatter involving Cam Newton to pick up. To be fair, the Panthers scored 42 points last week against a dreadful Tampa Bay defense. However, scoring 36 points the previous week against the Ravens, who have the best defense in the NFL, was no fluke.
The Panthers still aren’t throwing the ball downfield much, but Newton has been ultra-ultra-efficient with his passing and appears to have just enough weapons around him, especially with Greg Olsen back in the lineup. Along with the steady rushing threat provided by Newton and Christian McCaffrey, the Steelers figure to have their hands full despite giving up 21 points or less in four straight games.
Of course, the Steelers continue to have a star-studded offense of their own. JuJu Smith-Schuster is actually the team’s leading receiver this season, as he’s making teams pay for putting too much focus on Antonio Brown. Running back James Conner has also come into his own. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in four consecutive games, coinciding with the team’s four-game winning streak.
However, the Panthers present an interesting challenge for the Steelers. The Carolina defense has the pieces on the defensive line to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and help create turnovers. More importantly, the Panthers completely took away DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans when facing the Bucs last week, forcing Tampa’s ancillary players to do the damage. They may have a chance to do the same thing to Brown and Smith-Schuster this week and at least force the Pittsburgh offense to try their Plan B.
We may finally have a good game on Thursday night. Both teams want to win this game badly and both are playing excellent football at the moment. With that in mind, covering more than a field goal could be tough for the Steelers, even at home. Bet on the Panthers +3.5 to at least beat the spread.