Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Steelers finished the regular season 13-3, but are more vulnerable heading into the post-season than that suggests. They finished the regular season with a +91 point differential, 6th out of the 8 remaining playoff teams, as 8 of their 13 wins came by 7 points or fewer, including 5 wins by 3 points or fewer. In their final 9 games of the regular season, they won by more than a touchdown just twice, once against the TJ Yates led Texans and once at home on a short week against the Titans in a game that was still close in the 3rd quarter. Their defense has also been significantly worse since losing Ryan Shazier.

Their lack of blowout wins is especially relevant considering this line is 7.5. That’s way too high, as the Jaguars are more than a capable opponent. They finished the regular season 3rd in point differential at +149 and 2nd in first down rate at +5.95%, both higher than the Steelers. They benefited from a slightly easier schedule than the Steelers, but they blew out most of the teams they beat (average margin of victory of 20.20 points per game in the regular season), while the Steelers had trouble with teams like the Browns, Bears, Colts, and Bengals (one win by more than a touchdown in 6 games against those teams).

The Jaguars also beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Jaguars will win again, as the team that previously won only wins at a 63.1% rate in non-divisional playoff rematches (48.3% rate as underdogs), but the Jaguars don’t have to win straight up to cover this spread, given how much cushion we are getting. I have this line at Pittsburgh -4, so we are getting significant value with the visitors at 7.5. This is a high confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-15) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)

This is another game I will not be betting on because one team will be resting starters. The Steelers can still get the #1 seed if they win and the Patriots lose at home to the Jets, but clearly they do not think Patriots/Jets will be a competitive game, as they have said they will be resting key starters with a first round bye locked up, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell and presumably others. As a result, this line has dropped from Pittsburgh -14 at home over the Browns to -7.

The Browns are more talented than their record suggests (even if that isn’t saying much) and could be a competitive football team next season if they can get a real quarterback. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the 2012 Chiefs, who had some talent, but went 2-14 with a -24 turnover margin. The following off-season, they added Alex Smith to stabilize the quarterback position and their turnover margin and they went 11-5 as a result, with largely the same supporting cast.

The Browns are at -28 in turnover margin, which would be tied for the worst single season mark since the 2000 Chargers (who went 1-15), but most of that has been because of their horrendous quarterback play. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis anyway, though the Browns have been an exception to that this season because DeShone Kizer has been exceptionally bad. On the off chance they can play neutral turnover football against the Steelers’ backups, I am taking the Browns because this line is still pretty high, but this is just a no confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Houston Texans (4-10)

The Texans were blown out last week in Jacksonville, losing 45-7. The good news for them is teams tend to bounce back from blowout losses, going 54-31 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after getting blown out. That blowout loss didn’t cause a big line shift, but that’s largely because their opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost arguably their best player Antonio Brown with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the final two weeks of the regular season. Already missing stud linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season, the Steelers are far from 100% right now. The Steelers are also expected to be without starting left guard Ramon Foster with a concussion, though they do get right tackle Marcus Gilbert back from a 4-game suspension.

In addition to their injury issues, the Steelers could also be flat this week after last week’s heartbreaking home loss to the New England Patriots. They’re typically flat in non-divisional road games against weak opponents anyway, as they are 4-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004 as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Earlier this year, they lost in Chicago and almost lost in Indianapolis as big road favorites, and they only have 4 wins by more than 7 points all year, so the Texans could give them more of a game than people are expecting.

That being said, I would not recommend betting the Texans, for two reasons. For one, I don’t think we’re getting enough line value with the Texans. Given all of the players they have lost to injury this season, they are one of the worst teams in the league right now, with quarterback TJ Yates under center behind arguably the worst offensive line in football and a defense that has not been nearly the same since losing JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season. Two, the Steelers don’t have a tough game next week, with the Browns coming to town, and superior teams do tend to take care of business when they don’t have any upcoming distractions, as favorites of 6+ are 72-43 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. The Texans should be the right side, but only for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Houston +9

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

This is the biggest regular season game of the year in the AFC, and possibly in the entire NFL. These two teams are the only real contenders for the #1 seed in the AFC and the winner of this game effectively gains two games in the standings because they’d own the tiebreaker. If the Steelers win, they move up 2 games in the standings over the Patriots with 2 games left to go and they would own the tiebreaker, eliminating the Patriots from contention for the #1 seed and, depending on what happens with the Jaguars earlier in the day, possibly clinching the #1 seed for themselves. The Patriots, meanwhile, would move into a tie with the Steelers with a win and they’d own the tiebreaker, meaning they’d clinch the #1 seed if they won their remaining two games, which are easy home divisional games against the Bills and Jets.

Both teams had disappointing performances last week in primetime games, as they were understandably a little flat with this game on deck. The Steelers needed a late comeback to win at home over the Ravens by 1, while the Patriots couldn’t quite mount a comeback in an eventual 27-20 loss in Miami to the Dolphins. That comeback by the Steelers is the difference in the standings between these two teams right now, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot, considering both teams still control their own path to the #1 seed. This game will more than likely decide who gets homefield advantage throughout the AFC and homefield advantage in what could easily be a rematch of this game in the AFC Championship game.

Despite the fact that the Steelers currently lead in the standings, I trust the Patriots to bounce back off of last week’s disappointing performance a lot more. Part of that is because they get tight end Rob Gronkowski back from suspension, but it is primarily because bouncing back is what they’ve typically done in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They are 46-24 ATS off of a loss since Belichick took over in 2000, including 37-18 ATS in games started by Tom Brady. They’ve also only lost back-to-back games 5 times in the last 8 seasons.

They’ve typically done well in big games against tough opponents too. With Tom Brady at quarterback, they are a ridiculous 33-12 (35-10 ATS) in games against teams who have a better record than them. That’s a winning percentage of 74.4%, while the league average in that situation is 38.2%. Those aren’t just a bunch of early season games against teams with fluky records either, as they are 14-6 (16-4 ATS) in those type of games in week 10 or later. The Patriots are also close to an auto-bet in games where they basically just need to win to cover, as they’ve gone 48-21 ATS in Tom Brady’s starts as underdogs or favorites of less than 3, including a ridiculous 20-2 ATS off of a loss.

On top of that, the Patriots also happen to be the better team, despite Pittsburgh having the better record at 11-2. The Steelers have had a lot of close calls on the road to 11-2. In fact, their last 3 wins have come by a combined 8 points, even though they were big favorites in all 3 games (at home vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, at home vs. Baltimore). On the season, they are 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer and they rank just 9th in point differential at +69. They could easily be 8-5 or 9-4 right now and they’re even worse than that suggests because they are without key linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season with a spine injury.

It’s no surprise that their defense played by far their worst game of the season in their first game without him last week when they allowed 38 points at home to the Ravens. They also struggled without him after he got hurt the week before against the Bengals. They may get top cornerback Joe Haden back from a 4-game absence with a leg fracture, which would be a big boost to this secondary, but that’s far from a guarantee and he may not be at 100% even if he does play.

The Patriots are a clear step up offensively from those the Bengals and the Ravens and have torched the Steelers over the years. Tom Brady is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh and not much has changed scheme wise defensively for the Steelers over the years so I would expect more of the same, especially with Shazier out. The Patriots should easily win this one by a field goal or more, so this is my Pick of the Week. I locked this in at -2.5 earlier in the week, but I still would like the Patriots a lot at -3.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)

Steelers/Ravens is one of the biggest divisional rivalries in the NFL, but the Steelers could still have one eye on next week’s game this week, as they host the New England Patriots in a game that could easily be for the one-seed in the AFC. The Ravens, meanwhile, should have completely focused for this huge divisional game, as they have one of their easiest games of the season next week in Cleveland, where they are 6.5 point favorites on the early line. The Steelers, by comparison, are 2.5 point home underdogs against the Patriots on the early line.

Underdogs tend to cover before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, going 67-41 ATS in that spot since 2014. On top of that, teams tend to cover before being big road favorites, as they tend to not have any upcoming distractions. Teams are 79-58 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 5 or more. All that being said, we are getting no line value with the Ravens at +5 in this game in Pittsburgh. This line was 7 a week ago on the early line, but has shifted significantly since.

It’s no surprise why, given the brutal season ending spine injury stud middle linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered in last week’s win over the Bengals, as well as the one-game suspension given to talented Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a late hit on Vontaze Burfict, but the Ravens lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith to a torn achilles in their win over the Lions last week and he’s more important to the Ravens than Shazier or Smith-Schuster is to the Steelers. Prior to going down, Smith was one of the top cornerbacks in the entire NFL and a huge part of a Baltimore defense that ranks 2nd in first down rate allowed.

The Steelers are also missing top cornerback Joe Haden and right tackle Marcus Gilbert with suspension and injury respectively and have not played as well in recent weeks as a result. However, they are still a step up in class from the teams the Ravens usually beat, especially at home. Four of Baltimore’s seven victories this season have come against backup quarterbacks (Tom Savage, EJ Manuel, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley) and another came against the Deshone Kizer led Browns.

Their only two remotely impressive victories came against the Bengals week 1 and last week against the Lions, neither of whom compare to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, even as banged up as they are. They could still keep this within 5 points, as about 33% of games are decided by 5 points or less, but I can’t be confident in them at +5 because we aren’t getting any line value with them at all. I still have this line calculated at -7, before situational trends are factored in. I’d need at least 6 to consider placing a bet on the Ravens this week

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Baltimore Ravens 16

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

When I saw the Bengals were touchdown home underdogs in this game on the early line last week, I was strongly considering making a bet on Cincinnati +7, depending on the results of last week. Unfortunately, this line has shifted from 7 to 4.5 in the past week, due in large part to the Steelers’ underwhelming 31-28 home victory over the Brett Hundley led Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. That game wasn’t as close as the final score suggests though, as the Packers struggled to move the ball for most of the game, except for a few big plays they scored touchdowns on. The Steelers won the first down battle 28 to 15 and had a first down rate differential of +10.53%. On the season, they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.51%. They are clearly still a top-5 team, despite the close call against Green Bay.

Given that, we aren’t getting much line value with the Bengals at +4.5. We are still getting some though, as I have this line calculated at 3. The Bengals have major issues on the offensive line, but they have some good playmakers around Andy Dalton and a top-10 defense supporting him. They are kind of flying under the radar a little bit in the AFC right now, but they’re 5-6 and they’ve faced a tough schedule. Their losses have come against the Ravens at home, the Texans at home week 2 when they were healthy, the Packers in Green Bay back when Aaron Rodgers was healthy, these Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Jaguars in Jacksonville, and the Titans in Tennessee. They played Houston, Green Bay, and Tennessee close and could do that here as well, especially since the Steelers enter with some key absences and potential absences.

The Steelers are missing top cornerback Joe Haden and right tackle Marcus Gilbert with injury and suspension respectively. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returns after a one game absence with a hamstring injury, but he might have to be their #1 receiver this week, as Antonio Brown is questionable with a toe injury he suffered on practice on Thursday. Even though he hasn’t practiced since, he’s still expected to be able to suit up Monday Night, but that’s far from a guarantee and he easily could be less than 100% if he plays. If he’s ruled out I’ll revisit this pick, but the Bengals are a low confidence pick at 4.5 for now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4.5

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2)

The Packers are obviously not the same team with backup quarterback Brett Hundley under center instead of Aaron Rodgers, as that’s about as big of a dropoff from starting quarterback to backup quarterback in the NFL. That’s not the only injury the Packers are dealing with though. They remain without their top-2 running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the year. On defense, Morgan Burnett will miss his 5th game of the season this week and stud nose tackle Kenny Clark and talented edge rusher Clay Matthews will join him on the sideline this week for the first time this season. Given their injury situation, they are one of the least talented teams in the league.

The Steelers are not at full strength either, so they won’t be able to fully take advantage of the Packers’ injury situation. Top cornerback Joe Haden remains out. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was just suspended for the next 4 games. And talented rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will miss this game with a hamstring injury. They should still win this game pretty easily, but this line is pretty high at -14. The Steelers are still my pick because they have an easy trip to Cincinnati on deck. Big favorites tend to take care of business before being big favorites again, as favorites of 7+ are 66-42 ATS before being favorites of 7+ again the following week. This is my lowest confidence pick of the week though.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Green Bay Packers 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -14

Confidence: None