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Thursday Night Football: Which Team Will Keep Their Win Streak Alive?

If last week was the stink bowl, with two one-win teams facing off, we are getting a real post-Halloween treat. The 6-2 Carolina Panthers travel to Heinz Field to face the 5-2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in an interconference clash with major playoff implications.

Per our power rankings, the Steelers come in sixth, while the Panthers rank ninth. And the two teams hold four- and three-game winning streaks, respectively.

So, who will come out on top and maintain their path to a division title? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

This matchup will have some juice, and that's thanks to two veteran signal-callers at quarterback that have been fantastic at the position in 2018.

In reviewing the 33 quarterbacks with 150 or more drop backs this year, Cam Newton has been ballin'. Peeking at Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Newton checks in seventh with a mark of 0.22, and Ben Roethlisberger isn't too far behind him, ranking ninth (0.21). In terms of Passing Success Rate, or the percentage of drop backs resulting in positive NEP, Newton ranks 10th (51.275) and Roethlisberger slides back a bit to 15th (49.01%).

Both signal-callers seem very unsure about pushing the ball downfield. In terms of Average Intended Air Yards (IAY), which measures the average Air Yards a passer throws on all attempts, despite many passing weapons, Roethlisberger has posted a mediocre mark of 7.8 IAY, while Newton has been a bit farther back at 7.4 IAY. Using Week 9 as an example, where passers like Baker Mayfield (11) and Aaron Rodgers (10) led the pack in deep passes -- pass attempts traveling 16+ yards, Newton (6) and Roethlisberger (5) were a little more conservative.

Measuring Newton as a passer only would be a disservice, and the quarterback has certainly used his legs to his advantage. Cam is lapping the field in rushing attempts, easily leading the same group with 62 carries, 342 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.

Despite that lack of a deep ball, both quarterbacks are performing well from a fantasy perspective, as seen from their point-per-game and FanDuel-point-per game marks.

Player Passing NEP per Drop Back Rank Fantasy PPG Rank FanDuel PPG Rank
Cam Newton 0.22 6 23.8 4 24.2 4
Ben Roethlisberger 0.21 9 21.4 8 22.3 7

In terms of situation-neutral pace, the Steelers are one of the quickest teams in the league, ranking 9th (30.03 seconds), while Carolina plods along a lot more, clocking in 25th (32.16 seconds).

With both teams possessing fantastic quarterbacks, who has the edge at running back

Running Back Play

As weird and difficult as things have and continue to be in Pittsburgh at the running back position, it went to a whole new level yesterday:

Trolling upside tweets or not, holding out this season in hopes of a large offseason contract, Le'Veon Bell has given way to James Conner, who has been fantastic for the Steelers. Among the 34 running backs with 75 or more carries this year, Conner ranks 11th in Rushing NEP per carry (0.04). In terms of Rushing Success Rate, Conner has been strong as well, clocking in 10th (43.71%). Conner leads the AFC in rushing yards (706), and he ranks fourth in receptions among running backs (38).

Christian McCaffrey has also been a beast this season, ranking 3rd in running back receptions (49), 19th in Rushing Success Rate (40.37%), and 16th in Rushing NEP per rush (0.00).

From a yards from scrimmage perspective, Conner ranks second (1,085), while McCaffrey ranks seventh (880), which also shows up in their individual fantasy rankings:

PlayerScrimmage YardsRankFantasy PPGRankFanDuel PPGRank
James Conner1,085221.4323.74
Christian McCaffrey880714.51017.69

It looks like both teams have strong running games, but can these defenses step up to the task and hold down these runners?

Defensive Matchup

In looking at numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics, one of the strengths of the Steelers' season has been their defense, which clocks in 10th, and the Panthers haven't been quite so strong, ranking 16th.

From analyzing Pittsburgh's perspective, they've been really good against both the run and the pass, ranking 8th against the pass and 12th against the run. Carolina has been pretty good against the pass, too -- they rank 13th there but have struggled defending the run, now sitting 22nd.

Getting pressure on the opposing quarterback has a major strength for the Steelers, but a problem for the Panthers in 2018. In terms of Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks plus intentional grounding penalties, Pittsburgh checks in seventh with a mark of 8.1%. Carolina, however, needs to step their game up, as they rank 20th with a mark of 7.1%.

As you may expect with the color mentioned above, Pittsburgh has been solid getting the ball back to Roethlisberger and company, but Carolina hasn't been so strong. Pittsburgh ranks 10th in yards allowed per drive (30.42), while Carolina clocks in 19th (33.06). Carolina has shined in forcing turnovers, ranking tied for seventh (15), while Pittsburgh has forced only nine this year.

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