Oakland Raiders (0-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
Before the season, I made a list of underrated and overrated teams, with the intent of betting them (or against them) until the odds makers caught up and I was proven wrong. This approach has worked well for me because I’m 10-4-2 ATS on games involving those teams. One thing I was dead on about was that the Raiders would be one of the worst teams in the league. They’ve been favored in each of their first 2 games, losing them both, including the last one in embarrassing fashion to the Dolphins, 35-13, a game I made a big play on in favor of the Dolphins.
Their defense has been exactly as you’d expect from a defense that ranked 29th in scoring last year and then who lost their top cornerback and top pass rusher this offseason. Injuries have hammered them on that side of the ball too as linebacker Aaron Curry is expected to miss the entire season, while top cornerback Ronald Bartell will miss at least 6 weeks after being put on non-season ending IR.
Shawntae Spencer, another starting cornerback, will also miss this game, as could middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Spencer isn’t very good, but he was a starter at a very thin position to begin with. After failing to return everyone at the position who played a single snap for them in 2011, the Raiders have lost their top two cornerbacks with injury and will likely start Patrick Lee and Phillip Adams in this one. Yeah, good luck containing Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
McClain’s potential absence also hurts as he’s one of their best defensive players and plays in a unit already starting a 4th round rookie. Travis Goethel, an inexperienced 2010 5th round pick, would start in his absence if he couldn’t go. Meanwhile, defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are showing their age as they just let Reggie Bush run for 172 yards and 2 scores on them last week en route to a 35-13 Miami victory in a game where the Dolphins totaled 452 yards.
Offensively, Carson Palmer has been what you’d expect and turning 33 this season, he’s not going to get any better. He’s not the problem though. The offense hasn’t been terrible and for the most part he’s not getting any help. He’s playing behind a 28th ranked offensive line in pass blocking efficiency and that will only get worse this week as they face a tough Pittsburgh pass rush, likely without starting right tackle Khalif Barnes. Barnes isn’t great or anything, but replacement Willie Smith was horrendous last week after Barnes left the game. And Darren McFadden? What the hell happened to Darren McFadden?
This has become a consensus awful team, one of the worst in the NFL. However, they still seem to be overrated by Vegas. How are they only -4 here? My first thought was trap line (more on that later), especially since most of the action is on Pittsburgh and the line is still falling, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Pittsburgh doesn’t cover this week.
Pittsburgh has a big home/road differential, dating back to the start of last season and have fallen flat on the road against bad teams in the past. This team is -40 on the road in that time period, including playoffs, and +137 at home. They beat Indianapolis by just 3, Kansas City by just 4, and Cleveland by just 3 last year. However, they’re heading into a bye and good teams tend to be very focused and cover heading into a bye.
Teams in general tend to cover heading into a bye, as long as their opponent isn’t also heading into one, going 151-126 ATS since 2002. However, good teams are even better. Road favorites of 3+ and home favorites of 7+ are a combined 34-18 ATS heading into a bye since 2002, as long as their opponent isn’t also heading into a bye. The Steelers, who are a perennially good team, have covered 4 out of 5 times before a bye under Mike Tomlin. Even with their recent road struggles, they should be extremely focused this week and obliterate an Oakland team that doesn’t stand much of a chance on paper.
The possibility of this being a trap line is the only reason this isn’t a bigger bet. Most of the money is on Pittsburgh and on top of the public being terrible on games where they lean heavily to one side this year, it’s a bad sign that most of the money is on one side and we have opposite line movement. Even heading into a bye, Pittsburgh could fall flat against a drastically inferior team on the road once again, especially since they will be without James Harrison and possibly Troy Polamalu again. I’m going with Pittsburgh because I just can’t see Oakland keeping this one close, but it’s not a big wager.
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 Oakland covers)
Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Oakland Raiders 13
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -4 (-110) 2 units