The Thursday Night Football preview at AT Media (or "ATM" as is more appropriate for this column) is back. We have a great game that has huge playoff implications.
This is a matchup of two teams who simply couldn’t beat Detroit, which shows you how up-and-down each can be. Pittsburgh tied Detroit at home earlier in the year, in a game that featured egregious weather and terrible quarterback play. While Minnesota is coming off a loss to Detroit last week. They allowed Jared Goff to drive the length of the field with just one timeout, securing a touchdown in the final seconds. Pittsburgh's defense held strong against Baltimore’s potential game winning two-point conversion attempt.
Thursday Night Football: Pittsburgh at Minnesota
Spread: Minnesota (-3.5)
We should expect a tough physical affair between two disparate teams.
The storyline surrounding this game is the health of this Minnesota team. They will be without left tackle Christian Darrisaw and wideout Adam Theilen, while Dalvin Cook is doubtful. Minnesota will be without two key offensive skill position players and their starting left tackle against a Pittsburgh defense that ranks third in adjusted sack rate. The stark difference between the Minnesota offensive front vs Pittsburgh is going to be the difference.
The Minnesota offensive line ranks 24th in offensive line yards and they are facing a Pitt defensive front that ranks 12th in defensive line yards. The Pittsburgh defense has been susceptible against the run, which is weird since they have been ranked in the top portion of the league for the last three years. A lot of that has to do with the merry-go-round of injuries. With TJ Watt in the lineup, Pittsburgh has a top defense. Not having Adam Theilen will allow Pittsburgh to shift their coverage towards Justin Jefferson.
Offensively, Pittsburgh has not been great. But Minnesota just allowed Detroit's offense to score 29 points. Diontae Johnson has been a revelation for Pittsburgh. Johnson is already near the 1,000 clip and has caught at least seven balls in each of the last four games. Johnson also did this against superior cornerback play, facing off against Chris Harris from LA, and Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith in Baltimore. Both Minnesota corners grade out below average according to PFF and Breshaud Breeland has been horrendous. Minnesota also ranks 29th in rush DVOA, so Pittsburgh's run game should be able to move the chains consistently here.
Pittsburgh has significant edges on both sides of the ball in this one. Some may expect a comeback spot for Minnesota. But after watching them the last few weeks, I can't justify betting them as a favorite-in any circumstance. Let’s continue to ride on the Big Ben’s retirement victory train.
The pick: Pittsburgh +3.5
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive
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