Thursday Night Football Preview: Which Backup Quarterback Will Get the Win?

Annie Nader
Annie Nader@ANader33

Week 14 will get off to a slow start, with the New England Patriots (2-10) visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) in a game that will feature two backup quarterbacks at the helm.

The Patriots are an ugly team to watch. The average total points across their last three contests sits at a repulsive 13.0 points, somehow making tonight's 30.5-point over/under look quite lofty.

Bailey Zappe will handle signal-calling duties after the Pats decided to put Mac Jones out of his misery. To make matters worse for this near-non-existent offense, New England will be without their two biggest offensive playmakers tonight. Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) leads the Patriots in yards, while Demario Douglas (concussion) paces the team in target share.

It's hard to make a case that these players' availability would have mattered much anyway -- Zappe and this offense put up a goose egg last week against one of the worst defenses in the league -- and it's even harder to make a case for a Patriots player reaching the end zone tonight.

While the only thing the Pats are in the hunt for is an intriguing draft pick, the Steelers are in the hunt for a playoff spot and sit atop the AFC Wild Card standings going into tonight.

Kenny Pickett (ankle) is out for Pittsburgh, so Mitchell Trubisky will round out this battle of the backups. The Steelers are coming off a disheartening loss to the Arizona Cardinals (3-10) and will look to rebound against a team that seems insistent on losing games.

The game kicks off at 8:15 p.m. ET and can be streamed on Prime Video.

NFL odds via FanDuel Sportsbook. Lines may change after this article is published.

Patriots at Steelers Week 14 Betting Odds: Spread, Total, and Moneyline

  • Spread: Steelers -6.0 (-105)
  • Total: 30.5
  • Moneyline:
    • Steelers: -255
    • Patriots: +210

Patriots at Steelers Week 14 Matchup Analysis

The somewhat close spread should be indicative of what type of "playoff run" we could see from this Steelers team, but it makes sense given that more of New England's losses have been kept within six points than not.

Tonight's game will see two solid defenses go up against two of the worst offenses in the league, though the Steelers fare better in each regard. Per numberFire's nERD-based power rankings, Pittsburgh ranks 18th overall, with a 23rd-ranked offense and 9th-ranked defense. The Patriots, meanwhile, rank 29th overall, made up of a 29th-ranked offense and 13th-ranked defense.

The Pats D has been nails as of late. They've allowed opponents an average of 8.67 points across their last three games, though they somehow managed to lose all three games.

While New England's excellence on defense has been completely undermined by their offense, we could see another great defensive bid against a Steelers team that scores the fifth-fewest points per game.

After terminating Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada, the Steelers have put up only a combined 26 points across their last two games. New England's rush D is allowing the third-fewest yards per game (88.7) and the least over their last three games (52.3), so while Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have been decent options in the backfield, Pittsburgh may have to rely on Trusbisky more heavily than they'd prefer.

New England's pass D is more middle-of-the-pack than their run defense, allowing the 17th-most passing yards per game (221.8) and the 14th-highest completion percentage (65.7%). I'd look for Diontae Johnson and George Pickens to get going tonight -- the former seems to be a favorite target for Trubisky, while the latter leads the team in yards per game.

It's not easy to make this Trubisky-led Steelers offense look flashy, but the Patriots' offense could manage to do so tonight.

The Patriots score fewer points per game (12.3) than any other team in the league, while the Steelers let up the sixth-fewest. New England has scored 16 touchdowns this season, eight of which were brought in by players who are out for tonight's game (Stevenson and Kendrick Bourne).

Ezekiel Elliott will take on a majority of the work in the backfield -- the Steelers permit the 11th-most rush yards per game (121.0) and the second-most per game at home (141.1).

Zappe doesn't have a lot to work with as it is but should have an even tougher time performing against a Steelers team that allows the second-lowest completion percentage. Pittsburgh also has the third-most takeaways (tied) this season, so things could get messy for Zappe, who has the worst Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back among QBs with at least 50-plus drop backs under their belt, per numberFire.

The Patriots are 2-10 against the spread, while the Steelers are 7-5 against the spread. Combined, these teams have hit the under in 19 of their 24 games.

Patriots vs. Steelers Prop Bets

Diontae Johnson Over 43.5 Receiving Yards (-110)

Johnson is averaging 52.3 receiving yards per game and has cleared the over on this prop in five out of eight games.

The Patriots are allowing 164.1 receiving yards to wide receivers per game, which should constitute a 44-plus yard game for Johnson, who leads the team in target share (24.7%).

Johnson ranks second among all Pittsburgh players in route and snap percentage as well as average depth of target (behind only Pickens).

The over on this prop becomes more intriguing when we look at how the Trubisky-to-Johnson connection has fared this season. Johnson led the team with a hefty 35.0% target share in a Week 8 game that saw Trubisky take a majority of the snaps, and Johnson ended that game with 85 receiving yards.

The same connection was forged again last week, with Trubisky meeting Johnson in the end zone. Given the low game total, we're getting juicy odds on touchdown props, so I'd also look out for Diontae Johnson Any Time Touchdown at +300.

Ezekiel Elliott Over 15.5 Rush Attempts (-130)

The Patriots don't have any good options to pass or catch the ball, so they've been rocking with a 50.0% rush-play percentage over their last three games (sixth-highest in NFL).

Sans Rhamondre Stevenson, who was granted 20-plus carries in the two games prior to his injury, we should see Elliott get a heavy workload tonight, even if the output isn't there.

Elliott rushed the ball 17 times last week, even with Stevenson logging nine first-half carries before exiting early.

While the -130 odds on this aren't fun, I'd be more than willing to take Elliott at over 16.5 rush attempts if the scales on this prop tip later this afternoon. numberFire is projecting 17.9 rush attempts for Zeke.

Ezekiel Elliott Most Rushing Yards of Game at +160 is also worth a look. While his average of 3.8 yards per rush attempt is unappealing, he could be a better option than anyone on the Steelers.

Warren and Harris will be splitting opportunities against a Patriots rush D that has been a bastion as of late. Not only does New England allow the fewest yards per rush attempt on the season (3.2), but that number has decreased drastically across their last three games (2.3). Warren can be explosive, averaging 5.9 yards per attempt, but the Steelers haven't utilized him as much as they should.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.