F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Improving Steelers should beat the Rodgers-less Packers
The Steelers’ 31-25 loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl 45 wasn’t all that long ago – three seasons to be exact.
In the NFL, that’s a lifetime.
Even with defensive end’s Brett Keisel’s return to the lineup today after missing three of the past four games with a foot injury, the Steelers will have 13 different starters from that Super Bowl game. Green Bay hasn’t been untouched by change, either. The Packers also have 13 different starters than the lineup they had at the end of the 2010 season.
The Steelers might not like to use the word “rebuilding,” but Pittsburgh’s certainly is in transition.
Judging from the results of the last six games, the Steelers might be gaining some traction heading toward 2014.
During a 2-6 start, which amounts to half a season, the Steelers averaged 19.5 points per game, two turnovers and four sacks allowed per game.
Over the past six contests, those numbers have shifted to 27.5 points per game, just three total turnovers and 1 1/2 sacks per game.
Defensively, though the Steelers haven’t played up to their usual standard, there has been improvement. Pittsburgh allowed 26 points per game in the first half of the season, forcing six turnovers and recording 13 sacks. In the last six, that has changed to 20.7 points per game, 10 takeaways and 15 sacks.
The players are starting to get what the coaching staff is teaching.
Because of that, the Steelers likely won’t make any coaching changes this offseason, regardless of the outcome of their final two games.
That might not be what the Todd Haley-haters out there want, but the Steelers’ beleaguered offensive coordinator has done a good job.
Even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is lobbying for Haley’s return.
Despite everyone looking for a rift between the coordinator and quarterback, it’s just not there.
And the players’ respect for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau hasn’t waned.
The Steelers are 2 1/2-point underdogs today in Green Bay, a number that would be larger if Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was starting at quarterback instead of Matt Flynn. Rodgers is out again because of a broken collarbone.
Because of that, look for the Steelers to pull off a mild upset in the snow and beat the Packers.
Take Pittsburgh, 23-17
As the Saints showed again last week, they’re a different team on the road.
Take Carolina, 27-17
The Raiders have given up.
Take San Diego, 31-13
Speaking of giving up, both of these teams might have done so.
But this is a rivalry game and Dallas still has a shot at the playoffs.
Take Dallas, 30-24
The Seahawks clinch the division and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a win.
Take Seattle, 27-13
After blowing a game last weekend in Minnesota, the Eagles should bounce back.
Take Philadelphia 31-27
It’s a big number, but the 49ers need to win this one.
Take San Francisco, 31-17
These teams will likely meet again in two weeks in Indianapolis.
Take Kansas City, 27-17
It’s a lot of points to lay, but Detroit should be good and angry.
Take Detroit, 30-20
Peyton Manning indoors? I’ll lay the points.
Take Denver, 37-20
The Jaguars embarrassed Tennessee at home earlier this season. But the Jaguars were healthy then.
Take Tennessee, 23-17
The Dolphins won their Super Bowl last week, finally beating New England. That will keep this one close.
Take Miami, 23-20
The Rams showed last week how dangerous they are at home.
Take St. Louis, 24-17
The Bengals at 3-5 on the road, 6-0 at home.
Take Cincinnati, 28-17
The Patriots won’t lose two games in a row, and the Ravens can’t keep winning by kicking six field goals a game.
Take New England, 20-18
Jets shouldn’t be giving points to anyone, including the Browns.
Take Cleveland, 17-16
Last week: 6-9 ATS, 10-5 straight up
Overall: 89-116-7 ATS; 132-77-1 straight up
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com.