The New Orleans Saints (3-6) head up north to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) this Sunday afternoon.
Andy Dalton is a familiar opponent for Mike Tomlin’s team, but the Steelers are not the successful team we are used to seeing this year after Ben Roethlisberger retired and T.J. Watt was injured in Week 1.
But all signs point to Watt returning, which should be a huge boost for this team after its bye week. The Saints are a 1.5-point road favorite, but can the Steelers get their third win as an underdog this year?
New Orleans Saints vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 13, 2022 – 01:00 PM EST at Acrisure Stadium
Welcome Back, T.J. Watt
In the NFL, nearly 70% of the variation between team performance can be explained by the effectiveness of its passing offense. That is why the quarterback is the most important position in the game and why every game preview is centered around that position.
But T.J. Watt is just different. He might be the only player who could justifiably win multiple team MVP awards over a quarterback like Roethlisberger who is destined for the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
The Steelers have been the top sack team for years in the NFL, leading the league with 273 sacks from 2017 through 2021. But this season after Watt was injured in Week 1, the Steelers are tied with Atlanta for the fewest sacks (8.0) since Week 2.
We know Watt led the NFL odds in sacks the past two years, including a record-tying 22.5 sacks in 2021, but it’s all the splash plays he makes that account for his greatness. He can bat a ball and cause an interception. He is one of the best at forcing fumbles. Even when he doesn’t get home for the sack, his pressure can lead to game-deciding plays like when he hurried Lamar Jackson on a two-point conversion last season.
- When Watt played in Week 1 in Cincinnati, the Steelers had seven sacks and five takeaways.
- Since Watt has been out in the last seven games, the Steelers have eight sacks and five takeaways.
All those close losses to the Patriots, Browns, Jets, and Dolphins could possibly have been wins if Watt played for the Steelers. One defensive player should never matter this much, but it has for the Steelers:
- Since 2017, Pittsburgh is 1-10 when Watt does not play.
- Since 2017, Pittsburgh is 2-13-1 when Watt either doesn’t play or plays under 60% of the defensive snaps.
The Steelers have likely dug too big a hole this year to compete for the playoffs or even avoid Tomlin’s first losing season. But if Watt plays out the rest of the season as the player we are used to seeing, you are going to see this team win several games. This first matchup at home with the Saints is one of the most ideal to start turning things around.
Pittsburgh Welcomes Back Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback for the Saints, and he is 3-13 against the Steelers in his career. He has never won a game if the Steelers scored more than 10 points.
Now, that is no longer a guarantee with this 2022 Steelers offense, but the fact is Dalton has not played well against the Steelers throughout his long career.
He completes just 58.4% of his passes with 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 6.1 yards per attempt, and a 77.0 passer rating against the Steelers.
The Saints had been playing competitive football under Dalton, but Monday’s loss against Baltimore was not a pretty sight. Dalton took four sacks, matching the total he had in his first five games this season. With Watt back for Pittsburgh, the sacks may be back as well despite Dalton’s quick release.
Steelers' Latest Stats
While the Steelers have the worst scoring differential (minus-77) in the NFL, the fact is every game has been within one score in the fourth quarter except the two you’d expect to be blowouts at the Bills (38-3) and at the Eagles (35-13).
But the Steelers harassed Burrow in Cincinnati in an upset win. They shut down Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in another upset. They dropped four interceptions from Tua Tagovailoa in Miami and held the Dolphins scoreless after halftime in a 16-10 loss.
The Saints lack the firepower of past years to expect them to light it up in this game. The weather is also going to be cold and winter-like in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
That is nothing new for Dalton, but the Saints are a dome team that historically has performed much worse away from New Orleans. This game should be kept well within reach for the Pittsburgh offense to win it.
Trust Kenny Pickett?
Pittsburgh’s defense should hold up against New Orleans with Watt back, but the wild card matchup is what Kenny Pickett will do against this defense. Pickett has two touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. A lot of the picks have not been his fault, but the more alarming part is the lack of scoring as the Steelers average 15 points per game this season, and that average is a little lower with Pickett in the game.
We could point to having to play two of his first four starts on the road against arguably the two best teams in the NFL (Eagles and Bills). He also played a top defense from Tampa Bay before getting a concussion in the third quarter and leaving that one.
There are some flashes each week that Pickett has potential, but he is going to have to start putting it together more consistently and score some points. They had a bye week to figure things out, and the offense is not without talent as the trio of Diontae Johnson, rookie George Pickens, and tight end Pat Freiermuth can get the job done.
Pickett vs. Saints
The Saints are also not the same elite defense they were in the past under coach Dennis Allen, who was the defensive coordinator in those years. These Saints have not had multiple takeaways on defense since Week 1 in Atlanta.
They have one takeaway in the last three games, and quarterbacks have thrown two interceptions on 283 passes against the Saints this year. If Pickett can avoid the interceptions in this one, then the Steelers should be able to pull off the win.
Pick and Prediction
Since 2021, the Steelers are 4-0-1 ATS as a home underdog in the NFL picks. That sounds good, but here is something that sounds great. Since 2007 when Mike Tomlin was hired, the Steelers are 15-3-3 ATS (83.3%) as a home underdog. No other team is above 69%.
Tomlin covers the spread as an underdog 62.3% of the time, which is right up there with New England’s Bill Belichick (62.5%) for the best in the NFL since 2007.
Those are spread records, but Tomlin is also 13-8 SU as a home underdog in top-rated sportsbooks, the best record in the NFL since 2007.
You probably go the other way if Watt was still out for this game. But with Watt back, the Steelers having the bye to figure things out, and the way they keep every game close unless they are playing an elite team, you should like the Steelers to win this game at home.