Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)

After narrowly escaping in Jacksonville week 11, the Steelers improved to 7-2-1 and looked to be in control of the AFC North, but they’ve lost 4 of 5 games since then and now need help to get into the post-season. Part of that is the schedule, as they’ve had to face the Chargers, Patriots, and Saints over that 5-game stretch, but they’ve also lost to the Broncos and Raiders and also nearly lost that game to the Jaguars, beating them by just 4 points on a last minute touchdown after being down double digits in the 4th quarter. On the season, the Steelers have just two wins that would cover this 15-point spread and they have just four such wins since week 5 of last season, with two of them coming at home on Thursday night against an unprepared opponent. They’ve frequently played down to the level of their competition.

The Steelers should be completely focused this week though, in a game they need to win to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to all of their injuries. That being said, I still think this line is a little high at 15. The Steelers have some key injuries as well, with Antonio Brown at less than 100% with a knee injury he suffered mid-week and with starting middle linebacker Vince Williams expected to be out. There’s not nearly enough here to be confident in Cincinnati, but they have a good shot at keeping it within two touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +15

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)

The Steelers got a huge win last week, beating the Patriots for the first time since the 2011 season. That win was big for several reasons, as the Steelers were previously on a 3-game losing streak (all in upset fashion) and were in danger of falling out of the playoffs with another loss. The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week though, with the Steelers now having to go to New Orleans to play the Saints, arguably the top team in the league. The Saints haven’t been quite as good in recent weeks, but they’ve also been on the road for three straight games and are now returning home, where they have covered 4 straight games, winning by an average of 22.25 points per game.

The injury news also favors the Saints, who are expected to get left tackle Terron Armstead back from a 5-game absence. Armstead is one of the top left tackles in the league and getting him back should boost this offense significantly. The Steelers, meanwhile, could be without talented receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who suffered a groin injury in practice on Thursday and did not practice at all on Friday. They’ll also be without running back James Conner for the second straight week. Given these two teams injury situations, this line is short at New Orleans -6.5. As long as this line is under a touchdown, the Saints are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

For the second straight year, the Patriots have lost in Miami the week before a critical late season matchup with the Steelers. Unlike last year, when the Patriots were outplayed pretty much from start to finish in Miami, this year they played well enough to win, losing on arguably the craziest walk off touchdown in recent memory. The Patriots bounced back in Pittsburgh last year and I expect the same from them this year. That’s typically what they do after a loss anyway, going 49-25 ATS in the Bill Belichick era after a loss, with just 5 instances of back-to-back losses in the past 10 seasons. That record is 27-5 ATS as underdogs or favorites of less than 3 and they are 62-31 ATS as underdogs or favorites of less than 3 overall since 2000.

The Patriots have not played well on the road this season, but home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. For example, prior to this season, the Patriots were 14-1 in their previous 2 seasons on the road, only losing last year in Miami. Pittsburgh is a place where the Patriots have had a lot of success all-time anyway and the Steelers have not played as well in recent weeks. Running back James Conner could return this week, but even if he does both he and Ben Roethlisberger will be playing hurt. I have this line calculated at -3 and this is a situation where the Patriots usually thrive, so they’re a strong bet if you can get them at less than 3. Even at -3, they have a good chance to at worst push.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: High

Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) at Oakland Raiders (2-10)

I’ve mentioned this a couple times this season already, but the Steelers historically come out flat on the road as big favorites against a non-divisional opponent. We’ve already seen the Steelers lose in Denver and almost lose in Jacksonville this season, but this actually dates back years. Since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, the Steelers are 7-20 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of more than a field goal and they are 5-16 ATS as road favorites of more than 4.5 since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004.

We lost some line value in this game in the past week, with the Steelers going from 12.5-point favorites on the early line down to 10-point favorites this week, as a result of the Raiders playing the Chiefs close, the Steelers losing to the Chargers at home, and heavy sharp action on the Raiders this week, but we’re still getting enough points to play with for Oakland to be worth a bet, especially with feature back James Conner out for the Steelers.

The Raiders obviously have issues, but I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -7, even before taking into account their struggles in this spot historically. Making this an even tougher spot for the Steelers is the fact that they have New England after this game, so the Steelers almost definitely aren’t going to be fully focused on the Raiders this week. I expect them to come out flat and maybe even let the Raiders take a halftime lead before eventually pulling out a relatively close victory in the second half. The Raiders are worth a small bet as long as this line is double digits.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland +10

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)

Both of these teams have had strong seasons, but the Chargers have been a little better. They rank 5th in point differential at +88 and 2nd in first down rate differential at +7.03%, while the Steelers rank 7th in point differential at +67 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.64%. The big difference is the amount of blowout wins the Chargers have gotten, with 6 of their 8 wins coming by at least a touchdown. The Steelers, meanwhile, have just 5 wins by more than a touchdown in their last 20 games, dating back to last season.

The Steelers have had a tougher schedule, with a combined opponents’ record of 49%, as opposed to 44% for the Chargers, but the Chargers schedule has been tougher than that suggests, as they have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles. In 5 games away from Los Angeles this season, the Chargers are 5-0 straight up (4-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 11.6 points per game.

This is a trend that actually dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 33-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012. The Chargers are also at an advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team at night. Teams cover at about a 65% rate in that spot all-time, regardless of where the game takes place, as western teams have internal clocks that are more suited for playing at night than eastern teams.

The Chargers have some injuries, with running back Melvin Gordon joining every down linebacker Denzel Perryman and rotational defensive tackles Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane on the sideline. The loss of Gordon is the biggest one, but the Chargers have good depth at the running back position. They also got stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back from injury a couple weeks ago and with him at full strength that should more than cancel out their other injuries, as he’s one of their best players. The Steelers, meanwhile, get stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt back from injury, but they lose safety Morgan Burnett again and he was noticeably missed when he was out earlier this season.

Despite all of this, this line suggests the Steelers are the better of these two teams, favoring them by more than a field goal at home. Given the Chargers’ slight statistical advantage and the advantage they have playing at night, I think this line should be closer to even, giving us good line value, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. The Chargers are a smart pick against the spread this week and have a decent shot to pull the straight up upset.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: High

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

The Steelers have traditionally disappointed as big road favorites outside of the division, going 7-19 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 3+ since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, frequently looking flat, especially early in games. We saw this last week when the Steelers trailed 16-0 late in the 3rd quarter in Jacksonville as 6-point road favorites. They ultimately made a huge comeback, but still only won by 4 at the last second and never had a shot to cover as 6-point favorites.

The Steelers were originally 6-point road favorites again in this one in Denver, but as a result of the Steelers’ underwhelming performance last week, combined with the Broncos’ upset victory in Los Angeles against the Chargers, this line has shifted to a field goal. The Steelers also might be more focused this week, after sleepwalking through 3 quarters against the Jaguars last week. Despite that, I still like the Broncos a decent amount in this one, as they’re a much more formidable foe than the Jaguars were last week.

The Broncos are just 4-6, but they’ve been much better than their record. In addition to their win in Los Angeles last week, they also have been competitive against the Chiefs (twice), the Rams, and the Texans, a trio of division leaders who beat them by just a combined 16 points in 4 games. On the season, they have a -7 point differential and are even better in first down rate differential, ranking 11th at 2.25%, despite having the 2nd toughest schedule in terms of opponent’s DVOA.

Their offensive line injuries concern me a little, as their top-2 offensive linemen, right guard Ronald Leary and center Matt Paradis, went down for the season a few weeks ago, but the Steelers are without stud defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt with injury for the second straight week, so they won’t be able to take full advantage of Denver’s injuries. I wish we were getting a better line, but the Broncos are worth a small play and have a good shot to pull off the straight up upset here at home.

Denver Broncos 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Denver +3

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)

I typically love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, and this game is no exception. Originally 3-point favorites on the early line last week, the Steelers are now 6-point favorites after their big home blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers. That kind of big win has not been typical of the Steelers recently, as it was just their 5th win by more than a touchdown in their last 19 games, dating back to last season. Blowout wins typically aren’t predictive of another blowout win either, as teams that outscore their opponents by 31 points on average outscore their next opponent by 5.31 points and just 2.62 points away from home, as the Steelers are in this one. That game could have easily been a case of the Panthers being unprepared away from home on a short week, so I don’t want to put too much stock into it.

The Steelers also have struggled in this kind of games in the past, going 5-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Big Ben and company have a habit of putting up a dud outside of the division on the road against teams they’re supposed to beat and the Jaguars have had their number over the past year anyway. Jacksonville is not as good as they were last season, but they still have a top-5 defense and can make this a competitive game at home. They lost center Brandon Linder to injury last week, but it helps to have running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye back healthy and the Steelers will be without a key defensive lineman with Stephon Tuitt injured. The Jaguars are worth a bet as 6-point home underdogs.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: Medium