Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)

The Steelers looked dead in the water after week 5, with a 1-4 record and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, but they’ve won 6 of 7 games since then to climb back into playoff contention. Their early season losses don’t look so bad anymore either, as they all came against teams that are currently 10-2 (Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens), with only the Patriots game being decided by more than a field goal. The Steelers haven’t had a tough schedule over the past 7 games since their tough start to the season, but they have picked up a pair of wins over .500 or better teams in the Colts and Rams over that stretch. 

With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers defense has led the way, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.42%, led by an All-Pro caliber trio of Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Their defense has been even better in the past several weeks, leading the league with a 29.76% first down rate allowed since week 7, even more impressive when you consider they lost stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the season after week 5. The Steelers’ offense has the 3rd worst first down rate over that stretch at 29.84%, but they switched quarterbacks last week from backup Mason Rudolph to undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who seems to be an upgrade, even if only by default. 

The Steelers’ schedule continues to be relatively easy, with a matchup against the Cardinals this week. Not only are the Cardinals 3-8-1, but their 3 wins came by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 6-30. In their 8 losses, they have been outscored by 13.25 points per game. They rank 28th in point differential at -96 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.60% and are one of the worst few teams in the league. The Steelers’ offensive issues keep them in the middle of the pack in my roster rankings, but the Cardinals rank 30th and I have them calculated as 4.5-point underdogs in this matchup. It might not seem like we’re getting a ton of line value with the Steelers at -2, but about 20% of games are decided by 2-4 points, so those are a significant two points. The Steelers are worth a small bet this week in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

A week ago, the Steelers were favored in this game by a field goal on the early line. That line made sense, as the Browns were favored by a field goal in the first matchup between these two teams a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. Three points for homefield advantage is standard, so both of those lines suggested these two teams were about even. However, this line has since shifted all the way to Cleveland -2.5 this week, suggesting a significant difference between these two teams.

I don’t really understand that line movement. The Browns blew out the Dolphins last week in Cleveland, but that’s not all that impressive. The Steelers had an underwhelming performance in Cincinnati, but still managed a 6-point win as 6.5 point favorites. It’s possible this line movement has a lot to do with the Steelers benching Mason Rudolph for Devlin Hodges, but that could ultimately prove to be an upgrade. Although he’s seen very limited action, Hodges has a QB rating 17 points higher than Rudolph so far this season. Over the past 6 weeks, the Steelers have a first down rate of just 28.66%, second worst in the NFL over that span, so it would be hard for Hodges to be a significant downgrade. At the same time, the Steelers have the best defense in the league in terms of first down rate allowed at 29.35% over that time span, so they can definitely win games even without great quarterback play.

In the previous matchup between these two teams, the Browns won 21-7 at home, but that’s primarily because they won the turnover margin by 4 (due to 4 Rudolph interceptions) in a game in which the Browns actually lost the first down rate battle by 0.28%. That’s despite the fact that they had defensive end Myles Garrett in that game and he’ll be a very notable absence (for multiple reasons) from this matchup. The Browns could get fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon back from a 3-game absence, but that’s far from a guarantee, after he was limited in practice all week and he’s not the same caliber player as Garrett. The Browns will also be without both of their starting safeties from the previous matchup, with Morgan Burnett out for the season with a torn Achilles and Damarious Randall listed as out for disciplinary reasons. 

The Steelers won’t have running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but both of those players barely played in the first matchup and the Steelers still were able to play about even in first down rate on the road. If Hodges can avoid throwing 4 interceptions like Rudolph did, the Steelers have a good chance to win this game at home. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re not getting quite enough line value with the Steelers for them to be worth betting, but if this line moves up to 3 and/or Vernon is ruled out I would reconsider.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cleveland Browns 16 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-10)

The Bengals are six games away from becoming the third team all-time to lose every game in a 16-game season. Ordinarily, winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season, going 56-32 ATS in week 9 or later in the past 30 seasons, as they tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and hungry for a win. The Bengals have faced the toughest schedule in the league by DVOA and 5 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or fewer. That being said, it’s hard to get excited about betting on the Bengals with fourth round rookie Ryan Finley under center.

When the Bengals benched Andy Dalton for Finley, it was not a move the Bengals made to give themselves a better chance of winning in 2019. In a lost season, it was all about giving Finley a chance before deciding whether or not to use their upcoming high draft pick on another quarterback. Dalton had the worst quarterback rating of his career before being benched, but he also had by far the worst supporting cast of his career. Even in a down statistical year for Dalton, his QB rating is 26.4 points higher than Finley’s and his YPA is 2.1 yards higher.

Even still, we’re getting some line value with the Bengals, as the Steelers are missing their top-2 offensive skill position players, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers have a solid defense, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed, but they haven’t been as good as they’ve appeared, as they’ve been overly reliant on takeaways (26, 2nd in the NFL), which are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Steelers are also in a tough spot, with this game sandwiched between last week’s emotional rivalry game against the Browns and next week’s rematch. They might not bring their best effort for a 0-10 Bengals team. I wouldn’t bet on the Bengals, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 22 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-6)

This is going to be one of my lowest confidence picks of the week. Not only do I not have a strong lean either way, but Thursday games have been tough to predict this season, as I am just 2-7 ATS on Thursday this season, dating back to week 2. The Browns’ 3-6 record is in part the result of a tough schedule (5th highest opponent’s DVOA), but a lot of their losses haven’t been close, as they have an average margin of defeat of 14.67 points per game rank 25th in point differential at -50. 

The Steelers’ 5-4 record is largely the result of a +13 turnover margin, 2nd best in the NFL, and turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, but even in first down rate differential the Steelers hold slight edge, ranking 22nd at -2.52%, while the Browns rank 26th at -3.20%. The Steelers haven’t faced a cupcake schedule either, with the 15th highest opponent’s DVOA, and they have a solid +42 point differential since being blown out week 1 by the Patriots. The also hold the slight edge in my roster rankings, ranking 16th, while the Browns rank 21st. 

This line, favoring the Browns at home by 2.5 points, suggests the Steelers are the slightly better team, which is about right. I have this line calculated at Cleveland -1.5, but that’s barely any line value, as only about 4% of games are decided by exactly 2 points. If the Browns had defensive end Olivier Vernon healthy, I’d pick them because that would mean the Browns would be as healthy as they’ve been all season, but he is a big absence, as the Browns lack capable players behind him on the depth chart. The Steelers would be my pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I don’t like either side that much.

Cleveland Browns 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)

The Steelers are 4-4, despite losing franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season week 2. Even in their losses, they have been competitive, losing 3 of the 4 games by a combined 9 points, despite all 4 losses coming against teams that are 6-2 or better. However, they’ve been very dependant on the turnover margin, coming into the week with a +11 margin that is second in the NFL behind the Patriots, which is in large part due to a 65.52% fumble recovery rate that ranks 3rd in the NFL. 

Both turnover margin and fumble recovery rate tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Steelers won’t necessarily be able to count on that going forward. In terms of first down rate differential, the Steelers rank 22nd at -2.71%, which lines up with where they are in my roster rankings (20th), as not only are they missing Roethlisberger, but also dominant defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who is also out for the season. Also out this week are running back James Conner, left guard Ramon Foster, and possibly top wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Rams are a little overrated as well, as some of their wins could have gone the other way and they are not as good offensively as they have been in recent years because they don’t have the same offensive line. They rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.68% and 10th in my roster rankings, so we’re not getting any real line value with them as 4-point road favorites in Pittsburgh. They are in a great spot though, coming out of a bye, as teams are 40-11 ATS since 2002 as favorites of 3.5+ after a bye. There’s not enough here for the Rams to be worth a bet, but they should be the right side.

Los Angeles Rams 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -4

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)

The Steelers have been one of the most impacted by injury teams in the league this season. The big injury was obviously to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went down for the season with an elbow injury in the first half of the second game of the season. With backup Mason Rudolph under center for most of the season, the Steelers have fallen to 21st in first down rate at 34.35%, a year after ranking 6th in at 40.55% in 2018. They’ve also suffered a major injury on defense as well, with All-Pro caliber defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for the season with a torn pectoral, though they have more talent on defense to make up for his absence, led by Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt, who have also played at an All-Pro level in 2019. This week, the Steelers will also be without starting running back James Conner and starting left guard Ramon Foster. 

The Colts have also been very impacted by injuries. They’ve had 7 expected starters miss time with injury this season: wide receiver TY Hilton, cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir, safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, linebacker Darius Leonard, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. They were as healthy as they’ve been all season in a near home loss to the Broncos last week, but this week they could be without Desir, Hilton (already ruled out), Hooker, and defensive end Justin Houston. Despite the Colts’ 5-2 record, these two teams aren’t far apart, as all seven games the Colts have played have been decided by seven points or less. I tentatively have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -3, factoring in the Colts’ injury situation, but it’s hard to make a definitive call on this game without knowing the status of Desir, Hooker, and Houston. I’ll likely have an update tomorrow morning. 

Sunday Update: Houston and Hooker will both play, despite not practicing Friday. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -2, so there’s not enough here to take the Steelers with confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh PK

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (0-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)

The Steelers have had a strange season. On one hand, they haven’t lost by more than a field goal since their week 1 trip to New England, despite starting three different quarterbacks, even winning with third string undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges under center in their most recent game before the bye. Even with that 30-point week 1 loss in New England included, the Steelers have a -8 point differential that isn’t terrible, especially considering they’ve faced the second toughest schedule in the league by DVOA and that they are the only team in the league who have faced both the undefeated Patriots and the undefeated 49ers. This week, the Steelers get back second string quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was showing signs of progress before being concussed in the Steelers week 5 game loss to the Ravens, a game they likely would have won had he not gotten injured.

On the other hand, the Steelers have benefited immensely from turnovers and turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Steelers have a +7 turnover margin on the season that ranks 2nd only to the Patriots and is easily the best among teams with a negative point differential (the Lions are +4 at -11 and the Cardinals are +2 at -31). There have been just 18 instances of a team losing a game this season despite winning the turnover battle and the Steelers were on the losing end of 3 of those games (Seahawks, 49ers, Ravens). In terms of first down rate differential, the Steelers rank 22nd at +-.72%, which is underwhelming. In my roster rankings, they rank 21st, with their defense suffering a huge blow when Stephon Tuitt went down for the season with an injury in their last game before the bye. He had been one of the top defensive linemen in the league this season. 

Tuitt might not be missed this week though, as the Steelers’ schedule suddenly gets much easier with the Dolphins coming to town. The Dolphins are better when veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is under center, as young quarterback Josh Rosen has shown no ability to deal with the heavy amounts of pressure let up by this backup caliber offensive line, but they are still one of the worst teams in the league by a mile, regardless of who is under center. After an off-season teardown, they have few talented players remaining and those players likely aren’t giving 100% effort for a coaching staff and front office that transparently doesn’t care about winning this season. This line is about right at -14, but I’m not taking the Dolphins this season unless I have a great reason to, so the Steelers are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -14

Confidence: None