Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
I really wish these two teams weren’t playing each other. I was so looking forward to betting Pittsburgh back at home this week off their bye after they fell flat in Oakland before the bye. That loss in Oakland, as bad as Oakland is, was predictable. The Steelers have really struggled on the road, as opposed to at home, over the past year plus. Over the last year plus on the road, they are -43, including playoffs, and +137 at home. They beat Indianapolis by just 3, Kansas City by just 4, and Cleveland by just 3 last year and now they lost to Oakland.
They were also without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu last week. The latter’s injury was more damaging. The Steelers are now 7-8 since 2009 without him, allowing 21.6 points per game and 27-8, allowing 14.4 points per game, with him. That’s not all him, but a lot of that is him. He’s their only irreplaceable defensive player and his mere presence can disrupt passing plays and running plays. Both are expected to be back this week and even though Polamalu is more important, both will be welcomed back with open arms. They also return Rashard Mendenhall who, even if he still isn’t 100%, will add some life to a running game that currently ranks dead last in the NFL in YPC. Besides, home favorites of 3+ off a bye are 44-21 ATS in non-divisional contests since 2002. Back at home, healthy, off a bye, this was a great “buy low” opportunity to bet on them.
However, we’re not getting any line value with them at all because of who they are playing. Philadelphia is still undervalued because of how many turnovers they committed in the first 3 games. Turnovers tend to be very inconsistent on a week to week basis. The average turnover differential the following week for a team that had a differential of +5 one week is the same as the average turnover differential the following week for a team that had a differential of -5. They’re right around at +0.0. In fact, that’s the case for every turnover differential bracket. That’s why I wasn’t shocked at all that they didn’t commit a single turnover against the Giants last week. Turnovers aside, they rank 2nd in the league in yards per play differential.
The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 22nd. That’s skewed by the injuries they’ve had and they’re a much better team at home, but this line is -3.5. An old gambling formula says to take the difference between the two differentials, in this case, 1.2, and divide by .15 and add 3 points either way for home field to get the “real” line. In this case, the “real” line should be Philadelphia -5. Obviously, we need to add a human element to the mix here. If this line was Philadelphia -5, I’d be all over it for Pittsburgh, but the point is, Philadelphia has really outplayed Pittsburgh thus far this season and I don’t think they deserve to be 3.5 point home favorites over them. In order for this line to be valid, Pittsburgh would have to be tied for 1st with San Francisco in yards per play differential and I don’t think that’s the type of team they are, even at full strength, off a bye, at home.
I’ve gone back and forth on this. Philadelphia is probably the better team and has definitely played like the better team this season, at least in statistics that matter (meaning ones that are more consistent on a week to week basis). However, Pittsburgh is great at home and is finally healthy. They’re also in a great situation coming off a bye. Besides, like Green Bay and New England last week with the same record, Pittsburgh is a proven, veteran team in a must win situation. At the end of the day, I’m going to take the points and fade the public as long as we have field goal protection, but if I did zero unit picks, this would be one of them.
Public lean: Pittsburgh (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Philadelphia covers)
Sharps lean: PIT 17 PHI 9
Final Update: The sharps really seem to love Pittsburgh. I was as split as could be on this one, so I’m going to defer to the sharps and make a small play on Pittsburgh. If I did zero unit picks, this would be one though.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 Philadelphia Eagles 17
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -3.5 (-110) 1 unit