NFL : Thursday Football

NFL : Thursday Football

What bettors need to know: Steelers at Rams
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Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Louis Rams (+7½, 43½)

Down to the wire


Two games ago the Steelers looked a sure thing to make the playoffs as the division champion. Two losses later, they can take nothing for granted ahead of Thursday’s meeting with St. Louis.

"Do we feel good about where we are right now? Absolutely not," Mike Tomlin told The Associated Press on Monday, a day after a 29-22 home loss to Jacksonville. "Would we feel better if we had started the season 1-4 instead of 4-1? We probably would have.

“That's the mental toughness of this game – you have to stay singularly focused and in the tunnel. Every team faces trials and tribulations.”

A few weeks ago it all looked easy for the Steelers. They led the AFC North by two games and claimed the tiebreaker with a 31-28 win over Cleveland on Nov. 11. But an overtime defeat to the Jets on Nov. 18 was a huge setback. That was followed by uninspired losing performances against the Pats and Jags in the last two games.

If Pittsburgh’s losing streak continues this week, then it would hand Cleveland the chance to win the division. A defeat would also mean that the Steelers would likely need to win their final game of the season against Baltimore to make the playoffs.

"We don't have time to think about all of that," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We just have to win Thursday, get in the tournament. Who cares about momentum or whatever? You just have to get in the tournament."

The Steelers have already lost to three teams with losing records this season – the Cardinals, Broncos and Jets. They just squeaked by then-winless Miami as well, with a 3-0 victory on Nov. 26.

Frustrated Rams

The Rams come into Thursday night’s contest on the back of a frustrating loss. It was one that essentially sums up their season. They were beaten 33-14 by Green Bay in a game that they statistically dominated.

St. Louis outgained the Packers 364 yards to 279, and had the ball for 12 minutes and 48 seconds longer. The Rams held the ball for nearly 14 minutes in the third quarter and were still outscored 10-0.

"You can stand here all day and describe frustration," St. Louis coach Scott Linehan told the Belleville News-Democrat. "I don't think it's going to do a whole lot of good. The disappointing thing was there were a lot of positive things that happened in the game and it didn't show up in the win column.”

The Packers won the game with their consistently superior field position.

"We battled field position all day long as a team," Linehan added. "When your average starting point in the game offensively is the 17-yard line and the opposing team's offense average field position is the 48 – I always go to that stat at the end of the game and that's a pretty significant differential there.”

But the Rams’ single biggest problem this season has been their second-half performances. They’ve been outscored 217-76 after halftime this season and have failed to score a second-half touchdown in 10 of their 14 contests.

Not surprisingly, St. Louis has won only three games and has failed to cover in nine of its contests.

Steelers’ defensive meltdown

The Steelers’ first two-game losing streak of the season has exposed some surprising weaknesses. The league’s top-ranked defense has given up 842 yards, 63 points and 46 first downs in defeats against the Pats and the Jags.

"It's bad," inside linebacker James Farrior told ESPN.com when asked about the defensive slump after the loss to Jacksonville.  "We can't win games like that. You've got to be able to stop the run. We didn't do our job today on defense.  We've got to get it corrected. We've got two games left, and we've got to get better."

The Steelers were particularly poor against the run on Sunday. They allowed Jags tailbacks Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to rush for 216 yards and a touchdown, the most rushing yards Pittsburgh has given up in a single game since Nov. 26, 2000.

It seemed that the Steelers’ offense had bailed the team out when it tied the score at 22 in the fourth quarter, but the Jags marched 73 yards on their next possession to score a game-winning TD.

"If we go out and get a stop, get the ball back for the offense, we maybe win the game,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “But we couldn't get ourselves off the field. We just kept giving up plays in the running game."

The normally calm Tomlin was obviously angry at his team’s performance. “We are not playing well enough to win right now," he said. "That is the reality of it."

Head to head

Pittsburgh has won, and covered the spread, in two of its last three meetings with the Rams. Two straight games between these teams have gone over the total.

St. Louis has covered in two of its last three contests overall, while the Steelers are 1-5 ATS in their last six games.

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Re: NFL : Thursday Football

Beaten-up Steelers not looking forward to play again soon
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PITTSBURGH -- Brett Keisel woke up Tuesday morning, still sore and tired from the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to Jacksonville on Sunday. Then it hit him: in two more days, they're playing again.

It wasn't a pleasant thought.

''I was like, 'Oh my gosh, we're leaving tomorrow on the plane,''' Keisel said Tuesday before the Steelers' only full practice of a short week. ''That's the way it is, these Thursday games are a challenge. It tests your mental and physical conditioning.''

Especially that of a team that, a few weeks back, probably didn't expect this Thursday night game against the St. Louis Rams (3-11) to be nearly so important.

That was before the Steelers' once-comfortable two-game lead over Cleveland (9-5) in the AFC North evaporated in only two weeks, although they still own the division tiebreaker. The Steelers also have lost any chance for a first-round playoffs bye.

Merely making the playoffs suddenly has become a struggle for a team that was 7-2 not that long ago. The Steelers' 2-4 road record also is a worry - even though the Rams are 1-6 at home and are coming off a 33-14 loss there to Green Bay.

Rams running back Steven Jackson is a worry to Pittsburgh, which gave up 147 yards Sunday to Jacksonville's Fred Taylor during the Jaguars' 29-22 victory. Rams quarterback Marc Bulger also figures to be motivated going against his hometown Steelers.

''You know they're going to be jacked up to play us, no matter how you look at it,'' Steelers running back Willie Parker said.

Bulger threw for 375 yards and a touchdown in his only previous game against them in 2003, back when the Rams were known as the Greatest Show on Turf.

Also, the Steelers learned a month ago that records don't guarantee anything. After winning three division games in a row, they came out flat against the Jets on Nov. 18 and lost 19-16 in overtime. The Jets have the same record St. Louis does and had won only once previously before beating Pittsburgh.

Still, wide receiver Hines Ward says he cares little about the Rams' record or that of Dec. 30 opponent Baltimore (4-10); to him, the only record that matter is Pittsburgh's.

''For us, if we just win our games, we'll be in the postseason. It's not like we win all our games and we need other people to lose,'' Ward said. ''If we win, we're in. This game is big. All the games now are big.''

That's another reason why this short and not-very-thorough work week is a problem for the Steelers, with such an important game to play with so little preparation.

''It's probably a little bit tougher because it was a physical matchup against Jacksonville and now we're going on the road into a dome - and that's not exactly the best for your body because it does beat you up,'' offensive tackle Max Starks said. ''It's going to be an interesting game because it is such a short week, so hopefully guys can adjust fast.''

The Steelers may be short-handed, too, with left tackle Marvel Smith (back), linebacker Clark Haggans (knee), defensive end Travis Kirschke (ribs) and cornerback Ike Taylor (knee) all hurting. Taylor didn't practice Tuesday, but coach Mike Tomlin expects him to play.

If there is one benefit to the Steelers in playing Thursday, it is that they will have 10 days to rest before that Dec. 30 game in Baltimore. Even if the Steelers are upset by St. Louis, they can make the playoffs by beating the Ravens.

''We've got punched two weeks in a row and, hopefully, we can respond,'' Keisel said. ''This will be a great challenge for us. Short week, and our backs are kind of against the wall. We need to get our 10th win and seal up this thing.''

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Re: NFL : Thursday Football

Pittsburgh at St. Louis
By Brad Young

Pittsburgh is making a rare trip to St. Louis hoping to get back on the winning track. The Steelers can still claim the AFC North title and a third seed in the AFC playoffs, or could find themselves in a muddled mess to capture the last remaining wild-card slot. Pittsburgh has never played the Rams in St. Louis, making its last trip to the Gateway City back in 1985 when the team beat the Cardinals.

St. Louis is playing out the string in a disappointing season that has been marred by the injury bug. The Rams were expected to contend in the weak NFC West before key injuries scaled back their aspirations.

“Injuries have plagued St. Louis all season,” stated VegasInsider.com handicapper Mark Franco, who is hitting 57 percent of his selections. “The Rams have just been atrocious in the second half of games by getting outscored, 217-76.”

Stations Casinos installed Pittsburgh as an eight-point road ‘chalk’ over St. Louis, with the total set at 44. The line has remained constant throughout the week, while the total opened at 45. The NFL Network will provide coverage of Thursday’s matchup beginning at 8:15 p.m. ET.

The short week of preparation doesn’t help out either team, especially this late in the season. Injuries always pile up as the season progresses, and playing back-to-back games so close together late in the year is a recipe for disaster.

“The Steelers have clearly been outplayed their last two games against New England and Jacksonville in physical games, leaving the team beat up with a short week to prepare,” noted Franco. “Although Pittsburgh remains the league’s top-ranked defense, the unit has been vulnerable against the run and the pass the past two games.”

Pittsburgh (9-5 straight up, 7-7 against the spread) is currently mired in a two-game SU and ATS losing skid after falling to Jacksonville last weekend as a three-point home favorite, 29-22. The combined 51 points soared ‘over’ the 34-point closing total, ending a string of four consecutive ‘under’ outings.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 16-of-33 passing for 146 yards with three touchdowns, while running back Willie Parker had 14 carries for 100 yards. Wideouts Santonio Holmes (four catches for 34 yards) and Hines Ward (four receptions for 31 yards and a score) were Roethlisberger’s favorite targets.

The Steelers trailed the Jaguars in first downs (25-13), rushing yards (224-111), passing yards (197-106) and time of possession (37:39-22:21). Pittsburgh tied the game at 22 with 15 points in the fourth quarter, but Jacksonville iced the game just after the two-minute warning with a 12-yard touchdown run by Fred Taylor.

“I think St. Louis will have some success running the ball against Pittsburgh with Steven Jackson, and that will open up its passing game,” stated Franco. “Pittsburgh has already lost on the road to three sub .500 teams in Arizona, Denver and the New York Jets.”

St. Louis (3-11 SU, 5-9 ATS) has also dropped its last two games SU (1-1 ATS) after getting roughed up by Green Bay as a seven-point home underdog, 33-14. The combined 47 points landed directly on the closing total. The Rams had covered back-to-back outings before falling to the Packers.

Signal caller Marc Bulger completed 20-of-39 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Running back Steven Jackson had 24 carries for 143 yards with a score, while wideout Drew Bennett caught five passes for 65 yards.

St. Louis finished the contest with advantages in first downs (21-16), rushing yards (173-52), turnovers forced (3-2) and time of possession (36:24-23:36). However, the Rams were undone by penalties (13 for 93 yards) and a poor second half that saw them outscored, 16-0.

St. Louis knocked off Pittsburgh during the last meeting back in 2003 as a 1½-point road favorite, 33-21. The combined 54 points went ‘over’ the 44½-point closing total.

Pittsburgh linebacker Clark Haggans (knee), wide receiver Nate Washington (ankle), defensive end Travis Kirschke (ribs), linebacker Clint Kriewaldt (neck) and cornerback Ike Taylor (knee) are ‘questionable’ against the Rams, while offensive tackle Marvel Smith (back) is ‘doubtful’ and defensive end Aaron Smith (bicep) is ‘out.’

St. Louis defensive end James Hall (ankle), fullback Brian Leonard (head), free safety Hanik Milligan (hamstring), wide receiver Brandon Williams (ankle) and wide receiver Torry Holt (groin) are ‘questionable’ versus the Steelers. Running back Travis Minor is expected to miss this matchup due to an ankle injury.

Pittsburgh concludes the regular season next weekend at Baltimore, while St. Louis wraps up its season at Arizona.

vegasinsider.com.

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Game Preview for Steelers vs Rams

(Sports Network) - The climate-controlled Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be around a mild 70 degrees on Thursday night, though the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers will undoubtedly be feeling the heat.

The Steelers, who will face the Rams in the final Thursday night game of the 2007 season, have seen their firm grip on a playoff spot in the AFC loosen somewhat in the past few weeks.

Once cruising along at 7-2, Mike Tomlin's team has subsequently lost three of its past five games, allowing the upstart Cleveland Browns to pull even with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North division. Last week, the Steelers dropped a 29-22 decision to Jacksonville, the first home loss of Tomlin's tenure as head coach.

Cleveland, which was swept in a home-and-home by Pittsburgh earlier this season, would have to pick up a game on its rival in the next two weeks in order to win the division, but with upcoming outings for the Browns against the 5-9 Bengals and 4-10 49ers, that notion is not far-fetched.

The Black and Gold will also have to hold off 8-6 Tennessee, which is just a game out of the final Wild Card slot in the AFC. The Titans face the Jets (3-11) and Colts (12-2) in their final two contests.

After facing the Rams on the road Thursday night, the Steelers will travel to meet rival Baltimore in Week 17.

St. Louis, meanwhile, is resigned to playing the role of spoiler.

The Rams have had a relatively encouraging second half of the season thus far, following up a franchise-worst 0-8 start by splitting its last six games. That said, Scott Linehan's club comes into its '07 home finale on a two-game losing skid that includes defeats at the hands of the Bengals (19-10) and Packers (33-14).

SERIES HISTORY

The Rams have a 15-5-2 edge in the all-time regular season series with the Steelers, including a 33-21 win at Heinz Field when the teams last met, in 2003. Pittsburgh won the previous meeting, a 42-6 home rout in 1996. The Rams, who will be playing the Steelers in St. Louis for the first time, last won a home game over Pittsburgh in 1993 in Anaheim.

The Black and Gold was a 31-19 winner over the then-Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV from Pasadena.

The Steelers have won in their last two trips to St. Louis, beating the Cardinals there in 1972 and 1979, but are 0-9-1 in road games played in the series.

Tomlin and St. Louis' Scott Linehan will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective franchise, for the first time as head coaches.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Following a week in which Pittsburgh called 40 designed pass plays and 15 runs, the Steelers will look to establish Willie Parker (1317 rushing yards, 2 TD, 23 receptions) and the ground game on Thursday night. With 14 carries for 100 yards against Jacksonville, Parker was able to maintain his first-place edge in the NFL rushing race over LaDainian Tomlinson (1311 yards) and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (1278). Parker is attempting to become the first Steeler to lead the NFL in rushing since Bill Dudley paced the league with 604 yards in 1946. When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2897 passing yards, 29 TD, 11 INT) drops back to pass, the Steelers will have to offer him better protection than they did last week. In the same game in which he established a franchise single-season record for TD passes, Roethlisberger was also sacked five times, bringing the team total to a bloated 43 on the season. The signal- caller was also victimized by several drops, and will need the crux of his receiving corps - wideouts Hines Ward (66 receptions, 7 TD) and Santonio Holmes (44 receptions, 7 TD) along with tight end Heath Miller (43 receptions, 7 TD) - to be more sure-handed this week. Pittsburgh enters Week 16 ranked third in NFL rushing offense (139.4 yards per game), and 26th in the league in passing offense (185.6 yards per game).

Last week's stat sheet suggested that the Rams had a decent day defensively, as safety O.J. Atogwe (69 tackles, 7 INT) intercepted Packers QB Brett Favre twice and the St. Louis front seven limited running back Ryan Grant to 55 yards on 18 carries. But two hiccups in the secondary, one a completely busted coverage, led to two Favre touchdown passes that had a major impact on the outcome. Cornerback Fakhir Brown (43 tackles, 4 INT) was among the defensive players that struggled in the loss, and the fact that the team did not have a sack certainly didn't help. Outside linebacker Will Witherspoon (99 tackles, 7 sacks) currently leads St. Louis in sacks and tackles, and will be asked for contributions in both the run- and pass-stopping realms against the Steelers. Tackle La'Roi Glover (32 tackles, 4 sacks) is the biggest name on a in injury- depleted line. The Rams rank 19th in the league against the run (111.1 yards per game), 17th versus the pass (218.3 yards per game).

WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL

Despite putting up his finest outing of the year last week against the Packers, a 24-carry, 143-yard, one-touchdown performance, Rams running back Steven Jackson (862 rushing yards, 5 TD, 34 receptions) might not get the warmest reception from the St. Louis crowd on Thursday. Jackson publicly complained after the loss about the pro-Green Bay audience at the Edward Jones Dome, calling the situation "a joke." Another unpleasant element of last week's loss was the play of a passing attack that did not thrive despite the return of quarterback Marc Bulger (2008 passing yards, 7 TD, 11 INT) following a two-game absence. Bulger was 20-of-39 for 219 yards and a touchdown in his return, but also tossed a pair of interceptions on tipped balls and suffered four sacks. The Rams have now thrown a league-worst 23 INTs on the year, and have seen their quarterbacks sacked 44 times. Torry Holt (83 receptions, 7 TD) scored a touchdown in the game but turned in just three receptions for 21 yards. Isaac Bruce (46 receptions, 3 TD) and Drew Bennett (30 receptions, 2 TD) combined for nine catches and 137 yards in the defeat, though Bennett had a key drop that went for an INT. The Rams are 16th in passing offense and 21st in rushing (97.3 yards per game) at the moment.

A Steelers defense long-renowned for its run-stopping ability saw its reputation take a major hit in last week's loss to Jacksonville. Dick LeBeau's unit allowed Jaguars running backs to gut them for 224 yards on 42 rushing attempts (5.3 average), including 147 and a touchdown on 25 carries for the 31-year-old Fred Taylor. The return of strong safety Troy Polamalu (52 tackles) following a three-game absence had no apparent effect, as Polamalu had 10 tackles but did not register a big play. Inside linebackers James Farrior (82 tackles, 6 sacks) and Larry Foote (70 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) will join with nose tackle Casey Hampton (27 tackles) to try to slow Jackson's progress this week. Despite last week's problems, the Steelers rank third in NFL rushing defense (83.4 yards per game). Against the error-prone Rams passing attack, a Pittsburgh defense that ranks last in the league in interceptions (9) should be good for a big play or two. Cornerbacks Deshea Townsend (48 tackles, 2 INT) and Ike Taylor (66 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) will likely be matched with Holt and Bruce, while outside linebacker James Harrison (89 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT) will be among those bringing pressure on Bulger off the edge. The Steelers are third in NFL passing defense (174.6 yards per game).

FANTASY FOCUS

Fantasy managers who own Steelers such as Parker and Ward will be looking to start this week's playoff game (the championship round for most) off with a bang against a suspect St. Louis defense. Both players are must-starts, as is the Pittsburgh defense. Other Steelers like Roethlisberger and kicker Jeff Reed are worth considering, though you can't bank on fantasy production from either.

On the other side, those that kept Jackson on their rosters hoping he would return to form were rewarded last week. This isn't a great matchup for Jackson, but based on the way the Steelers struggled against the run last week, and the fact that the running back generally contributes in the receiving game, you should still start him. The same goes for Holt, who is going to the Pro Bowl thanks in large part to the yardage he's put up in garbage time this year.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Normally, you would have to worry about a heavy road favorite in a primetime matchup, as underdogs in these situations often circle the wagons and keep games close. But given the way the Steelers fans travel to support their team, and the fact that so many Rams fans were willing to give up their seats to Packers faithful last week, this one might more closely resemble a Pittsburgh home game. Look for the Steelers to thrive off the support, and to churn out a victory in a game they simply must have.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 24, Rams 14

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Preview: Steelers at Rams
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A couple of tough games have muddled the Pittsburgh Steelers' chances of winning an AFC North title. Their final two contests, however, could help ensure a return to the postseason.

After consecutive losses in tough matchups, the Steelers have a chance to move closer to clinching a playoff berth when they visit the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night in the first of two games with last-place teams.

Pittsburgh (9-5) lost 29-22 to Jacksonville at home Sunday, one week after losing at undefeated New England 34-13, and has dropped into a tie with Cleveland for first in the AFC North. The Steelers, however, remain in excellent position to return to the playoffs after a one-season absence, especially since they hold the tiebreaker with the Browns and are ending the regular season with matchups against St. Louis (3-11) and Baltimore (4-10).

Pittsburgh can clinch the AFC North with a win Thursday and a Cleveland loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. Even if the Browns win and the Steelers lose, Pittsburgh would secure a playoff spot if Tennessee falls to the New York Jets on Sunday.

"We don't have time to think about all of that," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "We just have to win Thursday, get in the tournament. Who cares about momentum or whatever? You just have to get in the tournament."

Matchups with subpar teams, though, haven't been certain wins for Pittsburgh, which has lost to three sub-.500 clubs in Arizona, Denver and the Jets. Meanwhile, the Steelers have lost two straight overall for the first time this season after facing two of the NFL's hottest teams in back-to-back weeks.

"Do we feel good about where we are right now? Absolutely not," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, whose team led the AFC North by two games after beating Cleveland 31-28 on Nov. 11. "That's the mental toughness of this game - you have to stay singularly focused and in the tunnel. Every team faces trials and tribulations."

The Steelers have been clearly outplayed in their last two games, including Sunday against the Jaguars in their first home loss of the season. It was a typically physical game, leaving Pittsburgh beat up with a short week to prepare for St. Louis.

Although the Steelers remain the NFL's top-ranked defense, they have been vulnerable over the past two games and may be short-handed as they get set to face a talented Rams offense.

Linebacker Clark Haggans (knee) and left tackle Marvel Smith (back) aren't expected to play, and defensive end Travis Kirschke (rib) is also hurting. Kirschke is filling in for Aaron Smith (biceps), who is out for the rest of the season.

Those injuries could make it tough for a run defense that will be trying to stop St. Louis star Steven Jackson, who has rushed for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games. Jackson finished with 143 yards on 24 carries - his first 100-yard game since Week 3 - in St. Louis' 33-14 loss to Green Bay on Sunday.

Against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh gave up 224 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Patriots, meanwhile, passed for 399 yards and four TDs versus the Steelers.

"Defensively, we can't play no worse than we are now," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said.

Jackson isn't the only big-play threat Pittsburgh will face Thursday. Marc Bulger has missed time with various injuries this season, but remains a strong downfield passer with an outstanding target in Torry Holt.

Bulger, though, struggled against the Packers, completing 20 of 39 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown while throwing two picks. St. Louis managed to stay within three points of Green Bay at the half, but was shut out the rest of the way.

That's a pattern that has plagued St. Louis all season. The Rams have outscored their opponents 144-132 in the first half, but have been trounced 217-76 over the final two quarters.

St. Louis coach Scott Linehan has struggled to find a solution.

"Hopefully we can find out in the offseason, so we can turn this thing around," Jackson said. "Because we have too much talent in this locker room to be losing games."

Much of the blame can be pinned on the Rams' defense, which is coming off another terrible game. St. Louis is ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 24.9 points per contest.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has the league's eighth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 23.6 points per game. The Steelers are led by Willie Parker, who tops the NFL with 1,317 yards rushing.

This will be the first meeting between Pittsburgh and St. Louis since Oct. 26, 2003, when the Rams won 33-21 on the road.

The Steelers are also facing the Rams for the first time in St. Louis. They haven't played there since Oct. 20, 1985, when they beat the St. Louis Cardinals 23-10.

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Re: NFL : Thursday Football

Pittsburgh (9-5, 7-7 ATS) at St. Louis (3-11, 4-10 ATS)

The Steelers, on the brink of losing their grip on the AFC North division title, travel to the Edward Jones Dome to take on the Rams.

Pittsburgh got pushed around by Jacksonville last week, losing 29-22 as a 3½-point home favorite, its second consecutive SU and ATS setback. QB Ben Roethlisberger had three TD tosses, including two in a fourth-quarter rally, but still went just 16 of 33 for 146 yards, as Pittsburgh dropped into a first-place tie with the Browns atop the AFC North standings. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker over Cleveland but essentially need to win out to claim the title.

RB Willie Parker had 14 carries for 100 yards against Jacksonville, but the Steelers – with the league’s top-ranked defense – got dominated in total yards (421-217) and time of possession (37:39-22:21). Pittsburgh allowed a season-high 225 rushing yards, with Fred Taylor grinding out 147 yards while scoring the game-winning TD late in the fourth quarter.

St. Louis lost to Green Bay 33-14 as a seven-point home underdog on Sunday, halting a 2-0 ATS win streak. QB Marc Bulger returned from injury and went 20 of 39 for 219 yards and a TD, but that was offset by two INTs, and he failed to lead any scoring drives in the second half. On a brighter note, RB Steven Jackson had his best output of the season, with 24 carries for 143 yards and a TD.

The Steelers are just 1-5 ATS in their last six games (1-4 ATS as a favorite), and they’re on season-long ATS slides of 2-4 on the highway and 3-6 in non-division games. On the plus side, Pittsburgh is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 December games and 18-7-1 ATS in its last 26 as a favorite of 3½ to 10 points.

The Rams are 3-9 ATS in their last 12 starts at the dome (2-5 ATS this year), 0-7 ATS against teams with a winning record, 1-4 ATS in their last five as a home underdog and 2-8-1 ATS in their last 11 as a pup of a touchdown or more. However, they are 4-2 ATS in their last six overall, after starting the season with eight consecutive SU and ATS defeats. St. Louis is also 5-1 ATS in its last six December games and 6-2 ATS as a home ‘dog of 3½ to 10 points.

The normally high-powered Rams offense, which has been decimated by injuries, is producing just 15.7 points and 300.7 yards per game. St. Louis has been limited to 19 points or fewer in four of the last five weeks.

Pittsburgh gives up just 15.6 points and 256 total yards per outing. But the last two opponents (Jacksonville and New England) have scored nearly as points (63) as the Steelers surrendered in their previous six games combined (77).

The over is on a 4-1 run at home for St. Louis, with the last two at the dome topping the total. Meanwhile, the Steelers had a 4-1 “under” streak snapped last week against Jacksonville. Still, the under is 4-1 in Pittsburgh’s last five on the road, including 3-0 in the last three.

ATS ADVANTAGE: ST. LOUIS

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NFL Gameday

There are two early games in Week 16 of the NFL as the Pittsburgh Steelers battle the St. Louis Rams tonight.

Pittsburgh at St. Louis

The Steelers lost their second straight game last week, falling to Jacksonville 29-22 as a 3-point home favorite. Ben Roethlisberger played through a sore shoulder and completed 16-of-33 passes for 146 yards with three touchdowns in the loss. Willie Parker rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries, but once again failed to find the end zone. Hines Ward caught four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown, while Heath Miller and Nate Washington also caught touchdown passes. The Pittsburgh defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the league heading into the game, surrendered 421 yards to the Jaguars including more than 200 rushing yards.

The Rams dropped to 3-11 after losing to Green Bay 33-14 as a 7-point underdog last week. Marc Bulger returned from a two-week injury layoff and completed 20-of-39 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Steven Jackson rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Torry Holt caught a touchdown pass.

It’s been four years since Pittsburgh and St. Louis have squared off. Back in 2003, the Rams defeated the Steelers 33-21 as a 1.5-point favorite. The Steelers are a 7.5-point favorite in Thursday night’s game.

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Unpleasant memory, forget the Steelers' nightmarish performances on defense the past two weeks.

Deshea Townsend won't long forget a very long day on a football field. The cornerback saw his once-proud defense shredded as the opposition moved through the Steelers at will.

Last Sunday against Jacksonville? The previous week in New England?

No, those require only a short memory by Townsend and the Steelers' somehow-still No. 1 defense. The spanking he has not forgotten is the one Marc Bulger and the St. Louis Rams put on his defense four years ago in Heinz Field.

Bulger, who grew up in Greenfield and played at Central Catholic High School and West Virginia, took the Steelers' defense to school that day in 2003. He completed 22 of 37 for 375 yards in a 33-21 St. Louis victory, and his pinpoint passing is what Townsend remembers most about it.

"He had a great game. Those guys put up some big numbers."

Torry Holt, who caught seven of Bulger's passes for 174 yards that day, still leads the Rams today with 83 receptions for 1,055 yards. His partner, Isaac Bruce, has Hall of Fame-type numbers -- 933 receptions, or more than 10 current receivers whose busts reside in Canton.

Bruce and Holt have combined for 10 touchdowns and, while the Rams are no longer the Greatest Show on Turf, along with brutish back Steven Jackson (6 feet 2, 231 pounds), they can give the Steelers' beleaguered defense every bit as much trouble tonight as did the Jaguars and Patriots the past two weeks. Only the Rams can do it either through the air or behind Jackson, their first-round pick in 2004.

Jackson has 862 yards rushing, even though he missed four games with a groin injury and three quarters of another with back spasms. He had his best game of the season Sunday, rushing for 143 yards and a 6.0 average against Green Bay.

The Steelers, as always, will try to stop the run first, something they could not do at all Sunday against Jacksonville. Yet, playing the run won't be good enough against a team that can throw Bulger, Holt and Bruce at you as well.

"Those guys are really on the same page when they're out there running their routes," Townsend said. "You can tell in the way they run them. A lot of times before they even come out of their cut, the ball is in the air."

Bulger, picked ahead of Tom Brady in the same sixth round of the 2000 draft by New Orleans, is not having the kind of season that made him into a Pro Bowl quarterback, winning that game's MVP in 2004. His passer rating was above 90 in four of his previous five years as the Rams' starter. Last season, he threw for 4,301 yards with 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

His line devastated by injuries, Bulger has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his NFL career, 11-7. And his passer rating stands at 71.1. He missed two games with a concussion before he returned to play Sunday against Green Bay.

Two of the game's best offensive linemen, tackle Orlando Pace and Todd Steussie disappeared early. Pace was placed on injured reserve and Steussie was released after foot surgery. He re-signed last month and will make his fifth start at right guard tonight.

"It's been a rough year, just because we lost Orlando and Steussie," Bulger said. "We lost four and five guys that played a lot of time for us on the line. I think three of our guys that lined up last week on our line were in the Arizona Cardinals' training camp and didn't make it through. It's been tough."

The injuries in their line, the injury to Jackson, and banged up receivers helped ruin the season for St. Louis, which lost its first eight games.

"It has been tough to get continuity," said Bulger, who has been sacked 33 times. "When you don't have a running game, they are obviously going to focus on the pass and pass rush, so it's been not only tough on me but tough on the line too because they are put in a tough situation."

But the Rams have won three of the past six and are as healthy as they have been all season as they try to help ruin one for the Steelers tonight.

Even the Steelers' offensive game plan will take into account the Rams' high-scoring potential on offense.

"Oh, yeah, there's no doubt," Steelers coordinator Bruce Arians said. "When you play an explosive offensive football team, you play to score more points. You might take a few more chances here or there rather than [playing] a team you think your defense might really shut down."

post-gazette.com.

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