Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
The Steelers’ defense has been alright this year, a noticeable improvement over last season, but their offense hasn’t nearly as good. Last year, they ranked 3rd in rate of moving the chains, but barely had anyone miss any time. They haven’t been as fortunate this season. They get wide receiver Martavis Bryant this week for the first time this season, after missing 4 games with suspension and 1 game with injury, but they’re still missing center Maurkice Pouncey and especially missing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with injuries. The Steelers moved the chains at a 78.65% rate in the first 3 games under Roethlisberger, but a mere 61.40% rate in the last 2 games, despite facing Baltimore and San Diego, two defenses that haven’t exactly been powerhouses thus far this season.
The drop off at quarterback from Ben Roethlisberger to Michael Vick has been close to as big of a drop off at the position as you can get, so bad that Jon Gruden actually suggested that Vick be benched for 3rd string quarterback Landry Jones, who has never even looked good in the pre-season, during last Monday’s night’s telecast, before Vick made some plays down the stretch. This isn’t surprising. Vick remained unsigned late into the off-season after being utterly ineffective in limited action last season, completing 52.9% of his passes for an average of 4.99 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked quarterback, despite playing just 281 snaps. No one played fewer snaps than him and graded out worse. The Jets moved the chains at a pathetic 64.44% rate in the games in which he played at least 50% of the snaps, even worse than when Geno Smith played, when they moved them at a 69.18% rate.
The Steelers won in San Diego last week, but they shouldn’t have, considering they moved the chains at a 61.54% rate, as opposed to 72.22% for the Chargers. The Steelers had long touchdown on offense, a pick six by the Steelers’ defense, multiple dropped interceptions by the Chargers, and still only won at the last second. If a couple plays go a little bit differently, the Chargers probably win that game by 10 or more. However, that hasn’t quite caused the Steelers to be completely overvalued by the odds makers and the public like I would have liked, as the odds makers have moved this line from 2.5 in favor of Arizona to 4.5 in favor of Arizona in a week and the public is still all over the Cardinals.
That’s because Arizona is coming off of a resounding 42-17 victory in Detroit last week, certainly an impressive performance, but a final score that was largely aided by a +6 turnover margin. Turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams that have a +6 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of just +0.4 the following week. The Cardinals won’t be able to rely on the turnover margin in this one.
Fortunately, they’ve been a great team aside from turnovers all year. They rank 2nd in rate of moving the chains differential, despite not being one of the NFL’s several remaining undefeated teams. Even in their loss, a 2 point home loss against the Rams, they won the moving the chains battle 71.05% to 66.67% and only lost because they lost the turnover margin by 3. That was a week before they won the turnover battle by 6, a lesson in just how inconsistent something like turnover margin can be on a week-to-week basis. The one knock on Arizona is they haven’t really played anyone (New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit), but Pittsburgh isn’t a very good team with Vick under center, especially considering Vick has covered in just 5 of his last 23 starts, despite last week’s fluky victory. I expect another big win by the Cardinals and I’m still comfortable putting money on them, but I still wish this line was lower.
Arizona is one of six road favorites this week, all six of whom the public really likes and, aside from the Atlanta/New Orleans Thursday Night Game, when I took the Saints and they covered, I’m taking all of the road favorites. I hate doing that, but 3 of them are in their 2nd straight road game (Arizona, New England, Denver) which helps, 2 of them are going into a bye (Denver, Cincinnati), which helps, and Baltimore is mere 2 point favorites over the lowly 49ers, who have a brutally tough home game against the Seahawks on deck. Arizona is the pick here and I hope for a rare, big losing weekend by the sportsbooks.
Arizona Cardinals 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 13
Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5