PREGAME STRETCH: Steelers at Colts

No Luck doesn't necessarily mean no chance for Indianapolis

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium, capacity 70,000; Thursday at 8:30 p.m., NBC

Announcers: Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth. Annoyance factor: Depends. There are those in the broadcasting business that would call this the ultimate dream team in the booth. We’re guessing most Steelers fans would not agree with that line of thinking. Personally, we prefer Al Michaels over Tirico, but both are light years better than the other No. 1 PxP guys. Information courtesy www.the506.com.

Weather – or not?: With lows in the 30’s predicted for Indy on Thursday, the retractable roof at Lucas Oil will be closed. Information courtesy www.weather.com.

How they rank: Indianapolis offense: 12th passing, 23rd rushing, 7th ppg; Pittsburgh defense: 26th passing, 16th rushing, 9th ppg; Pittsburgh offense: 6th passing, 24th rushing, 15th ppg; Indianapolis defense: 32nd passing, 24th rushing, 26th ppg; Sacks: Indianapolis 14th (22); Pittsburgh 16th (21); Sacks allowed: Indianapolis 31st (35), Pittsburgh 3rd (14). Comment: LOL, Steelers leapfrogged half the defenses in the league in sacks, going from 32nd to 16th. Eight more this week against the miserable Colts line would get them in the top five.

Referee: Walt Coleman. Competence factor: It’s all relative. This is Walt Coleman, the dairy farmer from Arkansas, Tuck Rule Walt, not Walt Anderson, the dentist from Texas, Super Bowl Walt. In fact, maybe all NFL white hats should be named Walt. Anyway, we used to think this Walt was a pretty poor white hat, but after some of the stuff we’ve seen so far this year, he seems like an upgrade. As has been the history of Coleman crews, this crew is one of the most restrained in the league, averaging only 13 assessed penalties for 106 yards per game. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com and www.profootballreference.com.

The line: Steelers -8. Smarts say: Well, now we know what Andrew Luck is worth to the Colts, about 6 points. When it became clear Luck would not play Thursday, the line here jumped from -2 to -9 before settling at -8 and the over/under went from a season-high 54 to 48. That means something like, Pittsburgh 28-20. Information courtesy www.dannysheridan.com and www.pregame.com.

The last time: Last December, the Steelers put a 45-10 hurting on the Colts, who had 106-year-old Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie “Sideline Jesus” Whitehurst at quarterback. Antonio Brown accounted for three scores in the game, one of them on a 71-yard punt return you might remember. The two teams have never played in Indy with Andrew Luck at quarterback, FYI.

Key matchup: Steelers DE Stephon Tuitt vs. Colts LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jake Mewhort and help.Tuitt’s havoc-wreaking performance Sunday earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and the potential is there for the massive man-child to repeat against a Colts offense that’s likely to be operating on half the playbook. With Scott Tolzein under center, Indy is likely to be run heavy and stopping the run starts with Tuitt. Shut that down (and have the offense score a few touchdowns instead of field goals) and the potential is there for some of the Chinese fire drill-type plays we saw from the Browns last week.

Quick hits:

+ The possibility of losing to Scott Tolzein got us thinking about who would be the worst quarterback the Steelers have lost to under Mike Tomlin and we eventually settled on Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon and his five NFL wins, including a 27-24 stunner at Heinz Field in 2014, one of two wins for the Bucs on the season.

+ Although this is the fourth time the Steelers and Colts have played in the past six years, Pittsburgh has faced Andrew Luck only once. A 2011 Pittsburgh visit to Indy preceded Luck’s draft selection by about five months. Luck played (alternately poorly and brilliantly) in a 51-34 shootout loss at Heinz Field. He was injured when the Colts returned to Pittsburgh in 2015 and will be concussed for the 2016 meeting at Lucas Oil.

+ On his radio show this week, Cory Giger asked us for some signs of a good team in the NFL and we offered as first, without hesitation, “scores touchdowns not field goals” as No. 1 with “pressures the opposing passer” a close second.

+ Is fantasy football losing its populist luster? Could that be another part of the puzzle of the NFL’s declining popularity? All we have here is anecdotal evidence, but we’ve heard a lot of people who say they’ve been in a league for 10 years plus (our first fantasy QB was an unknown named Kurt Warner in 2000) say they’re about ready to hang it up. The indirect gambling angle of fantasy was a huge part of the NFL’s explosive growth, spawning its own spinoff channel for watching games and changing the way the networks covered them. A reversal of fantasy interest certainly would have similar effects in decline.

+ Our two-point positions are on the table — only go for two when both strategy and time dictate AND randomly going for two based on gut instinct is not a strategy — and further discussion of the issue in this blog is officially off the table. When we worked in the newsroom as an editor, we had a sign posted on our desk — “Journalists + Math = Trouble — to remind us to carefully think over statistical assertions in stories. Well, about 100 editors could have used that sign last week because we never saw so many misleading, misguided or just-plain-wrong mathematical assertions in print in our life. We’d drive ourselves nuts trying to correct them all.

The pick: The Colts pass defense is dead last in the league but can the Steelers offense, which has been terrible away from Heinz Field, take advantage of that to turn this into the laugher it should be? Our guess is no, maybe even to the extent the offense actually provides the Colts with a defensive touchdown that keeps this close down to the final whistle. A loss here would be the biggest turkey in Mike Tomlin’s collection of them and certainly heighten the howls about his job security. That might be fun to watch but… Steelers 24-23.

Last week: The Browns had a chance at a garbage touchdown to make use a double winner, but no dice, leaving us 6-4 straight up and 6-4 against the spread.


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