Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
This line briefly opened at Pittsburgh -3, but sharp action quickly bet the line down to 1.5. I regret not grabbing Tampa Bay +3 when I saw it, as, not only is it obviously a better number, but the Steelers have really had a lot of trouble covering decent sized or bigger lines as non-divisional road favorites in the Mike Tomlin era, going 7-18 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 3+ (6-4 ATS as road favorites of less than 3).
Despite that movement, we are still getting line value with the Buccaneers, who have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises at 2-0, with wins over 2017 playoff teams in the Saints and Eagles. Their strong play is not coming out of nowhere though. Despite being just 5-11 a year ago, the Buccaneers finished 12th in first down rate differential and lost just 4 games by more than 7 points, against one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. That was even with Jameis Winston missing 3 games and being limited in others with a shoulder injury.
Before Jameis Winston got suspended, I thought this team could easily be a surprise playoff team in the NFC, but I backed off after the Winston suspension and other troubling news about him this off-season. Instead, Ryan Fitzpatrick has come in and played better than Winston ever has. It’s unclear how much the 35-year-old career journeyman can be trusted to continue playing like this, but I definitely have a lot more confidence in him now than I did a couple weeks ago.
On the other side, the Steelers are off to a disappointing 0-1-1 start, with a tie in Cleveland followed up by a home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh’s early season struggles are not out of nowhere either. They went 13-3 in 2017, but went 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less and could have easily been a 10 win team or worse. They especially struggled down the stretch, winning just 2 games by more than 4 points in the final 8 games of the season and then losing in their first playoff game at home to Jacksonville. That was in large part due to the loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier with injury and they did not adequately replace him this off-season.
Shazier isn’t the only player the Steelers don’t have on the field right now either. In addition to the holding out Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are also missing arguably their two best offensive linemen, right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert, DeCastro missing his second game and Gilbert missing his first. They get Joe Haden back from a one game absence with a hamstring injury, but cornerback Artie Burns remains limited by a toe injury and is expected to be a reserve in this game, while safety/linebacker Morgan Burnett is expected to be out with a groin injury. Given all the guys they’re missing, the Steelers don’t deserve to be favored by any amount in Tampa, as I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings right now. The Buccaneers are worth a small bet this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +105
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +1.5