Patriots vs Steelers Week 2 Picks and Predictions: Johnson Gashes New England's Secondary

Neither the Pittsburgh Steelers nor New England Patriots look especially imposing on offense. Still, even though Mitch Trubisky has a questionable arm, the Steelers QB should find receiver Diontae Johnson regularly against the Pats' paltry secondary.

Last Updated: Sep 18, 2022 8:23 AM ET Read Time: 4 min
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The New England Patriots defense allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage last week and now faces a Pittsburgh Steelers offense with a banged-up Najee Harris. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky didn’t take a lot of chances (3.3 air yards/ attempt) but focused his attention on two targets in Week 1.

With a nearly 60% target share between Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth, will the two pass catchers have big days on Sunday? Find out in my free NFL picks and predictions for Patriots vs. Steelers. 

Patriots vs Steelers best odds

Patriots vs Steelers picks and predictions

The Patriots play their second straight road game to open the season and the defense, especially the secondary, didn’t look great last week. The Patriots pass defense had plenty of question marks entering the season and it put up a dud in Week 1 as Tua Tagovailoa completed 70% of his passes and the Pats finished with a Bottom-10 dropback EPA.

Mitch Trubisky isn’t at the same level as Tagovailoa, but he managed a decent game vs. the Bengals in the Week 1 win and found plenty of chemistry with Dionatae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth. 

Of Trubisky’s 21 completions last week, 12 went to Johnson and Freiermuth who had a near-60% combined target share. The Patriots have been historically good at defending tight ends, which has me leaning towards the wide receiver who saw a 32.4% target share — a Top 10 mark last week. 

Johnson’s 8.1 air yards per reception wasn’t long, but it led his team and is right in Trubisky’s wheelhouse as he owns a 29.9% completion rate on passes over 20 yards.

With Najee Harris dealing with a foot injury and the Steelers unable to run the ball with their current O-line, Trubisky and head coach Mike Tomlin would be smart to attack New England's corners. 

New England corner Jalen Mills allowed a 156.3 passer rating when targeted last week and 20.7 yards per reception. On the other side, Jonathan Jones allowed a passer rating of 92.4 on six targets.

THE BLITZ projects Johnson at over 68 yards receiving making his Over 54.5 line an easy choice for my best bet.

 My best betDiontae Johnson Over 54.5 receiving yards (-115 at Caesars)

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Patriots vs Steelers betting preview

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Spread analysis

The Patriots went down to Miami last week earlier than usual in a move that smelled of desperation as New England looked sloppy, especially the offense, in the preseason. Now a banged-up Mac Jones has to face a Pittsburgh defense that forced five turnovers and sacked Joe Burrow seven times. He was dealing with back spasms but missed Thursday's practice with an illness.

Sharp bettors were quick to jump on the Patriots at the opening and have moved this line to as high as New England -2.5. But if Brian Hoyer were to get the start, the Steelers would become the favorites. Books are already starting to move off the 2.5 with some as low as -1.5. 

Pittsburgh will be without TJ Watt this week while Najee Harris was limited in practice after exiting in the fourth quarter vs. the Bengals. There is a lot of hype about this Pittsburgh defense but many are betting that its Week 1 output isn’t repeatable.

Without Watt, this is a very different Pittsburgh defense.

New England isn’t likely to throw the ball 50 times as the Bengals did and will likely lean on its strength which is running the ball. The Steelers were one of the worst teams vs. the rush last year with the No. 27 rush EPA and finished with the worst explosive rush rate (14%). 

Bill Belichick will rebound after a bad loss and the Steelers are riding high after that divisional win where they needed a blocked extra point to win despite winning the turnover battle five to zero. 

The New England defense didn’t impress in Week 1 but this Pittsburgh offense isn’t nearly the threat that the new-look Dolphins were. Pittsburgh had five turnovers and still only made two trips to the red zone last week — scoring a touchdown just once. Harris below 100% is a big deal and Trubisky completed just 56% of his passes in his debut. 

It’s hard not to side with the sharp action here on the visitors. I’m not overreacting to the Steelers’ Week 1 win, which is likely swaying many bettors here who are basing this game on last week's results. 

Over/Under analysis

Pittsburgh finished with the second quickest pace of play last week at 24.39 sec/play but started the game very slowly with the sixth-slowest pace. Despite trailing for most of the game, the Patriots were one of the slowest teams last week and finished 2021 26th in pace of play.

This total opened at 41.5 and immediately took money to the Under, where it sits at 40.5. Neither offense finished in the Top 20 in yards per play last week and Jones and Trubisky combined for just four total passes of 30 yards or more.

Without Watt, this Pittsburgh defense will have to adapt but Alex Highsmith finished with three sacks and nine tackles vs. the Bengals while Minkah Fitzpatrick was ball hawking in the secondary. I’m not expecting a performance like last week from this Pittsburgh defense, but this is still a bad matchup for New England’s passing game. 

Other offenses will be able to exploit this New England defense but with Pittsburgh’s issues on the O-line, the Harris injury, and Trubisky under center, this is not going to be an offense that hits the 30-point total. The Pittsburgh team total is currently at 19.5.

Again, if Jones were to miss the game, this total would likely fall to below 40. 

Patriots vs Steelers game info

Location: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Date: Sunday, September 18, 2022
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS

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Patriots vs Steelers betting trend to know

The Under is 4-0 in the Steelers’ last four home games. Find more NFL betting trends for Patriots vs. Steelers.

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