Can the Steelers pick themselves up after a tough loss to the Patriots?
Nothing says Christmas like a little football between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. The Steelers are coming off a crushing defeat at home against the Patriots in which they had a couple of chances to win and were denied by a stupid catch rule and a stupid quarterback decision. That game also saw the team lose their best wide receiver Antonio Brown for the next two weeks.
Now the Steelers have to hope for a Patriots slip up at home if they hope to get the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They also have to be careful because the Jaguars could wind up with the No. 2 seed (and first-round bye) if the two teams finish with the same record because of Jacksonville's head-to-head win back in Week 5.
The Texans are on the opposite side of things as Bill O'Brien's (above, right) team is just playing out the string having already been eliminated from playoff consideration with some of the focus already shifting to the offseason. Houston has lost four straight games, the last three by double digits.
Tom Savage and T.J. Yates continue to prove that they are not the answer at quarterback, leaving Texans fans praying for a safe return for Deshaun Watson next season. Losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on defense has proven to be too much as well as that unit continues to get battered on the ground and through the air. Houston has allowed 380 points (27.1 ppg), the most of any team.
The Texans are just 5-13 against teams with a winning record over the last three seasons. Houston also has not posted a winning record in December in that same span. This should bode well for Pittsburgh, which has had its share of issues on the road. The Steelers have gone under in 21 of their last 27 games away from Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh at Houston
Kickoff: Monday, Dec 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Steelers -8.5
Three Things to Watch
I always start with the stuff that is not as much on the field as in the minds of the players. Pittsburgh has got to be a bit hungover after the way last week's game ended. The players are saying all of the right things, but that loss has big-time implications for the postseason. The Steelers were thisclose to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which meant New England would have made another trip to Heinz Field should both teams advance. Instead, now Pittsburgh will be without its No. 1 wide receiver and are faced with the prospect of playing in Foxboro in January with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line most likely. For Houston, it seems a lot to ask the Texans to get up to play on Christmas considering how their season has gone and the fact they have lost three in a row. It's also probably going to look and feel like a Pittsburgh home game with all of the Terrible Towels that you will see waving in the stands.
2. Road unkind to the Steelers
True to form, Pittsburgh has thrived at home in recent seasons while struggling at times on the road. This season, the Steelers are averaging 20.9 points per game on the road and have a negative turnover differential (-1). Ben Roethlisberger (right) has thrown for fewer yards and touchdowns in road games compared to those played at Heinz Field. This also is the case in his career, as he's thrown 51 fewer TDs but 14 more interceptions in road games compared to what he has done at home. It should come as no surprise that Le'Veon Bell has seen more carries on the road, although he's been less active in the passing game. Of his 80 receptions thus far only 28 have come in road games. Pittsburgh needs to improve its road spilt if the Steelers want to make it to the Super Bowl, especially if the Patriots and Jaguars finish ahead of them in the playoff seeding.
3. Defense on a milk carton
Both of these defenses have hit the skids as of late. The Steelers have allowed 113 points to their last four opponents including 28 to Brett Hundley and the Packers and 38 to the Ravens (27th in the NFL in total offense). The loss of middle linebacker Ryan Shazier has been big in several ways, but help could be on the way if cornerback Joe Haden is able to return to stabilize the secondary. When the year began, this was one of the best defenses particularly against the pass, but that hasn't been the case lately. On the other side, you have a Houston team that's allowed the most points in the league and is not stopping any team through the air. Since the end of October, four teams have thrown for 300 yards against the Texans. Injuries up front have hurt the pass rush and exposed the cornerbacks for how bad they really are.
There are a lot of teams I'd probably pick to beat the Steelers in this situation, but the Texans aren't one of them. They can't sustain offense and their defense can't keep teams out of the end zone. It's going to be an ugly affair that you can pretty much ignore as you have your Christmas dinner. Pittsburgh gets the win in a home-like atmosphere on the road.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Texans 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.