This Week 3 Monday Night Football matchup between the winless Pittsburgh Steelers and the undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers takes place on September 24 at 8:15 pm EST at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.
It’s also a trip to opposite-land, where the Steelers – who went 13-3 last season on their way to the playoffs and who were predicted to do even better this season – find themselves with a record of 0-1-1 and an ineffective defense that’s allowed opponents to score 31.5 points per game. A loss to the Bucs in this matchup puts them in danger of sinking to the bottom of the AFC North.
It’s opposite-land, where the Buccaneers – the team that stunk it up last season going 5-11 and who was supposed to stink it up again in 2018 thanks to their franchise quarterback getting suspended for the first three games because of his off-the-field behavior – are 2-0 and looking invincible thanks to a backup quarterback who’s playing like he wants to keep the job. A win against the Steelers on Monday Night Football and the Bucs will be on top of the NFC South all by themselves.
Who’s favored to win this Week 3 Steelers-Buccaneers matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback, the veteran or the young guy, is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Steelers and the Buccaneers and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Steelers offense solid as Big Ben
During the preseason, there were whispers that the Steelers 36-year-old veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ready to retire, or was at least considering it and fans wondered if his heart was still in the game.
So far in 2018, it’s still not obvious if Roethlisberger wants to play.
At times during his first two outings, he’s looked like a 6x Pro-Bowler, 2x Super Bowl champion. He’s thrown the ball 101 times (ranked 1st), completed 62 of those passes (ranked 2nd) for 787 yards (ranked 2nd).
But at other times he’s looked, well, unimpressive. He’s only thrown for 4 touchdowns (tied for 11th), he’s thrown 3 interceptions (tied for 4th most) and his passer rating (86.5) is 23rd best in a league that starts 32 quarterbacks.
It doesn’t help that All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell has not only declined to sign his franchise tag, but has refused to even show up – not to offseason workouts, not to any preseason games, and not to the first two regular season games. His backup, James Conner, has filled in well, running 39 times for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns while catching 10 balls for 105 yards.
Nor does it help that All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown can’t stop complaining about the looks he’s been getting from Roethlisberger, never mind that Brown’s the most targeted receiver in the NFL with 33.
Head coach Mike Tomlin needs to figure out a way to quell the drama, because on the other side of the MNF field, the Bucs are having nothing but productive fun. And they’re winning.
The 2018 Buccaneers offense is all about FitzMagic
Tampa Bay’s 35-year-old journeyman backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing for his seventh NFL team since 2005, but from his impressive numbers you’d think he’s been the Buccaneers’ starter all along.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for 819 yards (ranked 1st) for 8 touchdowns (ranked 2nd) while only throwing one interception (tied for 20th). His near-perfect passer rating of 151.5 is the highest of all active quarterbacks who’ve thrown more than one pass. Given his overwhelming success on top of the fun he’s been having while winning check out the outfit – DeSean Jackson’s - he wore to a presser, he’ll most likely keep the job even when franchise quarterback Jameis Winston is eligible to play in Week 4. A solid outing and a win against the Steelers should solidify his chances even more.
The Bucs’ running game needs work, however, as it’s ranked 27th after only averaging 77.5 rushing yards per game. It will be up to running backs Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers to exploit the Steelers weak rushing defense (ranked 30th) that’s allowed 152.0 running yards per game.
Steelers Defense ranks 25th in the league, Bucs D ranks 31st
The 25th ranked Steelers defense has let them down in Weeks 1 & 2. They’ve only made one total interception and have allowed opponents to score 31.5 point per game (only four teams have allowed more).
All-Pro end Cameron Heyward (1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 8 tackles) and All-Rookie T.J. Watt (3 sacks and 8 tackles) have to put pressure on Fitzpatrick and shut down his passing game.
The Buccaneers defense haven’t been able to intercept a ball yet this season, and have combined for only 131 tackles, which puts them right in the middle of the league. They’ve allowed 30.5 points per game, so they’re probably not going to shut the Steelers down.
General manager Jason Licht selected defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round to help put pressure on the quarterback, but Vea has yet to play a regular season down due to a calf injury. Defensive ends Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Kwon Alexander each have a sack apiece.
Steelers placekicker Chris Boswell is not having a good 2018. So far, he’s missed both field goals he’s attempted and he’s missed one out of four extra point attempts.
Newly acquired Buccaneers placekicker Chandler Catanzaro is only doing slightly better. He’s made both kicks he’s attempted from the 30-39 yard range, but he missed a kick that was in the 40-49 yard range. He’s made 9 out of the 10 extra kicks he’s attempted.
Steelers-Buccaneers prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Steelers favored over the Bucs by 1.5 with an over/under of 53.5.
CBSSports.com’s final score prediction: Steelers 34, Buccaneers 30.