JEFF MCLANE Record, 1-3.
Week 5: At this point, the above record suggests I should get out of the prediction game. The Eagles, who are 3-1/2-point underdogs to the Steelers, are 1-3 against the spread this season. I’m 1-3 straight up. But press on, I must.
My gut says the Eagles win Sunday. I’ve gone against my better judgment the last three weeks. Not gonna do it, as Dana Carvey’s George Bush would say, this week. The book says you don’t bet against the Steelers at home against an NFC opponent. Ben Roethlisberger is 13-1 against the NFC at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has won nine of their last ten at home.
But this is not a dominating Steelers team – based on the first few weeks of the season and on paper -- and it is aging at some key spots on defense. Safety Troy Polomalu (calf) will play after a two-game absence. He is still a force to be reckoned with, but he doesn’t move quite as well at 31. James Harrison is also expected back, but at this point in his career it’s difficult to predict how much he can play with a chronically injured knee. LaMarr Woodley, at the other outside linebacker spot, is dangerous. He should give Todd Herremans, who has struggled for parts of this season, all he can handle at right tackle.
The thing that worries the most is how Michael Vick and the Eagles offense will fare against Dick LeBeau’s defense after one of his disciples terrorized the quarterback two weeks ago. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton did an effective job of keeping Vick off kilter with a variety of blitz packages. LeBeau doesn’t have the same caliber of horses up front, though. Defensive ends Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are not as unrelenting as the Cardinals’ Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett.
So Vick should have more time to operate behind a line that got into a groove in the second half last week.
The Steelers offense, meanwhile, has been lopsided. The running game has been non-existent, but running back Rashard Mendenhall will play for the first time this season. Roethlisberger has been sharp this season playing in a scheme that has him getting rid of the ball much earlier than he is used to. In spite of that, the Steelers quarterback has already been sacked nine times in three games. The Eagles defensive line should be licking its chops against an offensive line that is suspect.
I got the Eagles winning another close one in the fourth quarter, which probably means it won’t happen. Eagles 23, Steelers 21.
What goes right: Jeremy Maclin gets back into the swing of things and takes advantage of Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis.
What goes wrong: The Eagles special teams continue to have their issues.
Week 5: This is a tough matchup for the Eagles. The Steelers are a considerably more different team when they're healthy than when they're injured, and the return of Polamalu, Harrison, and Mendenhall makes them a better squad than what's on film from this season. That is why the 1-2 record is misleading. It's also worth noting that both losses were on the road, and this game is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are especially difficult to play.
Look for a disciplined game from the Steelers, who will set the tempo and not allow the Eagles many big plays. Vick will get pressured from the Steelers' zone blitz scheme, and the Steelers prove to be effective on third downs to extend drives. Pittsburgh will win the time of the possession battle, a critical element in this game. The game will come down to the fourth quarter, and Vick will again lead a clutch drive. But the Steelers will win the game on the final possession, and the Eagles will prepare for the Lions with a 3-2 record.
Steelers 27, Eagles 24
What goes right: The Eagles run the ball a healthy amount, and LeSean McCoy tops 100 yards. The kickoff coverage will also improve.
What goes wrong: Polamalu shows why he's one of the best safeties in NFL history. Roethlisberger leads the Steelers on a fourth-quarter drive.