Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)

The Steelers have consistently been one of the best teams in the league throughout Ben Roethlisberger’s 17-year tenure, but one thing that they’ve consistently had a problem with is playing down to the level of their competition on the road outside of the division. Since Roethlisberger’s first season in 2004, the Steelers are just 12-26 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a field goal or more, including 3-13 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a touchdown or more, which the Steelers are this week in Jacksonville. Not only do the Steelers have a poor ATS record in those games, but they’ve also lost 7 of the 16 games straight up, to much lesser opponents.

The Steelers are 9-0 this year, but we saw them just a couple weeks ago almost lose in Dallas as two touchdown favorites and, while they haven’t lost a game, they aren’t exactly blowing teams out either, with just two wins by more than 10 points, both coming against divisional opponents. Their +100 point differential is still 2nd in the NFL, but they haven’t faced a tough schedule and are slightly farther down in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 5th at +2.38%. 

The Steelers are obviously a good team, but they’re not the dominant team their record would suggest and they’re certainly capable of playing a close game with the Jaguars if they don’t play their best football. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league, but they have been better defensively in recent weeks since getting top linebacker Myles Jack and top edge defender Josh Allen back from injury and, while they’ll be without top cornerback CJ Henderson this week, that will somewhat be offset by the return of fellow cornerback DJ Hayden from injury.

Making the Steelers situation this week even tougher, they have to turn around and play a much bigger game on Thanksgiving on short rest against the Ravens. Favorites cover at just a 43.9% rate before Thursday Night Football, including 40.6% as favorites of more than a touchdown. The Steelers know they can beat the Jaguars even without their best effort, so why would they exhaust themselves trying to blow out a bad Jaguars team with another tough game on deck? Even if the Steelers can get out to a fast start, which they traditionally have not done in these types of games, we could see the Jaguars get a backdoor cover in the second half if the Steelers take their foot off the gas. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet, but the Jaguars should be the right side, especially if you locked it in at 10.5 like I did earlier this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

The Bengals are 2-5-1, while the Steelers are the league’s last remaining unbeaten team at 8-0, but the Bengals have been competitive in most of their games, losing just once by more than a touchdown, while the Steelers haven’t been blowing people out, with just one win by more than 10 points and five wins by one score or less. That’s despite the fact that the Steelers haven’t faced that tough of a schedule, including close contests with the Texans, the Jeff Driskel led Broncos, and the Garrett Gilbert led Cowboys. 

Given that both of these teams play a lot of games and that this line is 7, you might think I’m leaning strongly towards the Bengals, but the Bengals are worse than their box scores suggest, as their close losses to the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. The Bengals lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. They’ve also faced a relatively easy schedule and, in total, rank just 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.10%.

The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate at +2.22%. They’ve been carried by a defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.21%, while their offense ranks 28th in first down rate over expected at -1.99%, and typically defensive led teams are not as good of bets as offensive led teams because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, but the Steelers have been one of the best defenses in the league for a year and a half now and, even if they have some regression from their defense going forward, they should be able to more than compensate for it with improved offensive play, as my roster rankings suggest they’ve significantly underperformed their offensive talent this season. 

My calculated line is Pittsburgh -9, so we’re getting some line value with the Steelers at -7, and Pittsburgh is also in a good spot, with only an easy game against the Jaguars on deck. Since 2014, favorites of a touchdown or more are 56-31 ATS before being favorites of a touchdown or more again the following week, which the Steelers almost definitely will be again next week. It’s very tough for inferior teams to keep it close with superior teams when the superior team is focused without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. In a normal week, I might consider a bet on Pittsburgh, but with Ben Roethlisberger and others missing practice this week due to control tracing protocols, I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -7

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-5)

Last week, I picked the Cowboys as a low confidence pick as 11-point underdogs. My reasoning was that teams that fail to cover in their first 7 games tend to be solid bets going forward (62% all-time) because books know they can over-inflate their lines, as evidenced by the Cowboys being 11-point underdogs in Philadelphia against a middling at best Eagles team, but I also didn’t want to risk any money on a quarterback in Ben DiNucci who had never played before and might not be good enough to even be a backup in this league, which is why I limited it to a low confidence pick.

Sure enough, the game went as I expected, with the Eagles actually trailing 9-7 late in the third quarter and at one point leading by just 15-9 midway through the fourth quarter with the Cowboys driving, before DiNucci gave up a strip sack fumble that was recovered for a long return touchdown to not just secure the win for the Eagles, but to also push them to a front door cover. The Cowboys were probably the right side in that game because things like return touchdowns tend to be fluky on a week-to-week basis (not to mention that the touchdown easily could have been called back on replay), but I was also right to not bet any money on it, given the untrustworthiness of the Cowboys’ remaining healthy quarterbacks.

This game seems about the same to me, with the Cowboys being 14.5-point home underdogs against the Steelers. The Steelers haven’t lost all season, but they also have just one win by more than 10 points, including competitive games against lesser teams like the Giants, Broncos, and Eagles, so the Cowboys being competitive enough to keep this within two scores is certainly a possibility, especially if the Steelers look past the Cowboys, which they’ve had a tendency to do against lower ranked non-divisional opponents on the road in the Mike Tomlin era. Since Tomlin took over in 2007, the Steelers are just 5-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more and have lost 8 of those 20 games straight up. 

However, even though the Cowboys seem like the right side, I have no desire to place any money on it because I have no faith in whoever will start at quarterback this week, whether it be Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert this week, with Ben DiNucci getting the hook after one dismal game. Like last week’s game against the Eagles, this is a low confidence pick on the Cowboys. If they can avoid getting killed in the turnover battle and don’t give up any return touchdowns, I would expect this to be a little closer than most people think, but the Cowboys can’t be trusted to do that right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas +14.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-1)

The Steelers are the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, but they are still underdogs of 3.5 points in this game in Baltimore, 4 points at some points. That may sound unusual and it is, as this is the just 4th instance of an undefeated team being underdogs of this many points this late in the season over the past 30 seasons, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers are necessarily a smart bet, as the previous 5 teams to be underdog of this many points despite being undefeated in week 7 or later are just 1-3-1 ATS. That alone is not a reason to take the Ravens either, but it shows that there’s usually a good justification for an undefeated team being underdogs of this many points.

In this case, it’s perfectly understandable, as the Ravens are at home with at last some fan support and they are the defending AFC #1 seed, coming off of a 14-2 season, and their only loss this season came in Kansas City against the Chiefs, who are the defending AFC Champions. The Ravens played much worse in that game than the 34-20 final score suggests though, getting 11 points of value from special teams (return touchdown and a missed extra point and makeable field goal), not scoring on offense until the 4th quarter, and losing the first down rate battle by 9.54%. 

That Kansas City game significantly brings the Ravens down on the season in first down rate differential, as does their first down rate battle loss (-4.31%) to the Eagles in a mere 2-point win in the Ravens’ last game prior to their bye. A year after ranking far and away the best team in the league in first down rate differential (+6.34%), the Ravens rank just 17th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential in 2020 at +0.30%. The Steelers haven’t been much better though, despite not losing, ranking 13th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.45%. Despite facing one of the easiest schedules in the league, the Steelers have won just one game by more than 10 points and that came against a Browns team that was starting an injured Baker Mayfield. 

Both teams have lived up to expectations on defense, with the Steelers ranking 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at +4.72% and the Ravens ranking 7th at +3.21%, but they’ve been very disappointing on offense, ranking 29th at -3.28% and 27th at -2.91% respectively. Both teams should be better offensively going forward, but ultimately the Ravens should have a much higher ceiling on offense. The Steelers may have a slight edge on defense, but the Ravens are strong on that side of the ball too and are overall the better team. My calculated line is Baltimore -4, so we’re not getting much line value with the Ravens, but I do like that they’re coming off of a bye, as John Harbaugh at 20-8 ATS with extra time to plan. That’s not enough for the Ravens to be worth betting, but they should be the better pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Baltimore Ravens 25 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) at Tennessee Titans (5-0)

Both of these teams are undefeated at 5-0, but both teams have been less than stellar for stretches this season. The Steelers faced one of the easiest schedules in the league in their first 4 games of the season and managed just a +1.39%% first down rate differential, before stepping their play up in a big way last week, winning the first down rate battle by 11.41% in a 38-7 blowout win over a Browns team who was the toughest team the Steelers had faced to date. 

The Titans, meanwhile, have faced a slightly tougher schedule, but four of their five wins have been decided by one score or less, with the exception being a 42-16 blowout victory over the Bills that stands out as being a significantly better performance by the Titans than their other four games, much in the same way the Steelers’ win last week against the Browns was significantly better than their first four results.

This matchup was originally supposed to take place in week 4, but was pushed forward to week 7 because of the Titans’ COVID outbreak. The extra time has benefited both teams, as it’s allowed them to get healthier, but the Titans get the bigger boost, as top cornerback Adoree Jackson and top wide receiver AJ Brown have both missed time with injury, among others, while several other key players have missed time with positive COVID tests. All of those key players are expected to play this week, with the possible exception of Jackson, who has yet to play this season. The Titans are missing left tackle Taylor Lewan now, but he hasn’t played that well so far this season and the Titans have a first round rookie in Isaiah Wilson behind him on the depth chart. The Steelers get stud right guard David DeCastro back healthy after he missed 3 of the first 5 games, but they’ll be without top off ball linebacker Devin Bush and slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who will miss their first games of the season this week.

These two teams are pretty even overall, but I give the Titans the edge right now because of their injury situation. Despite that, this line favors the Titans by just 1 point at home, suggesting the Steelers are the slightly better team. This line has moved from favoring Pittsburgh by a couple points earlier this week, but that’s pretty insignificant line movement and the Titans should still have a good chance of covering in a game they basically just need to win to cover. I would need Jackson to play for the Titans to be worth betting, but they’re definitely under consideration and they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.

Tennessee Titans 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -1

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0)

The Steelers are undefeated, but I haven’t been that impressed by them. They rank just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.39% and all of their games have been competitive, even though they’ve played probably the easiest schedule in the league, with their opponents combining for a record of just 3-15-1. The Steelers are better on paper than they’ve looked so far this season, but their schedule gets much tougher this week, with the Cleveland Browns coming to town, fresh off an impressive win over the Colts that pushed their record to 4-1.

The Colts were without a key player in linebacker Darius Leonard last week and the Browns will be without a key player in right guard Wyatt Teller this week, but the Steelers will also be without a talented right guard in David DeCastro, whose absence will be bigger for a couple reasons. For one, DeCastro is a more proven player, with Teller playing at a high level to start this season, but almost entirely having no track record of being a high level player before this season. On top of that, the Browns have a more proven backup for Teller than the Browns have for DeCastro, with veteran Chris Hubbard set to step in, and the Steelers are already in trouble on the right side of their offensive line with week 1 starting right tackle Zack Banner also out.

This line, favoring the Steelers by 3.5 at home, suggests the Steelers are about 1.5 points better than the Browns, but I actually have the Browns slightly higher than the Steelers right now. The Browns have a good chance to pull the straight up upset and, even if they don’t, 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so there’s a good chance the Browns cover anyway. The most likely results of this game are either team winning by a field goal, both results that would cover this spread. I wouldn’t make this a big play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week in what should be a close game either way.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 23

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)

The Eagles got their first win of the season last week in San Francisco, but they were facing a very banged up 49ers team and got lucky that they won the turnover battle by 2 on a pair of terrible interceptions by 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens that swung what ended up being just a 5-point Eagles win. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway (the Eagles were -7 in the first 3 weeks of the season) and the Eagles lost the first down rate battle in that game by 6.10%, giving them a 29th ranked -5.19% first down rate differential on the season, despite the fact that they haven’t faced a particularly tough schedule.

This game in Pittsburgh is arguably the toughest game of the Eagles’ season so far. The Steelers are 3-0 and, though they haven’t been quite as good as their record, with their wins all being close and a 15th ranked first down rate differential on the season (+0.87%), their defense has still been one of the best in the league, ranking 5th with a 34.43% first down rate allowed, while their 26th ranked offense (35.29%) should be better going forward, especially with top offensive lineman David DeCastro healthy after missing the first two games of the season. 

Despite that, the Eagles are only touchdown underdogs in this game. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -10, as the Eagles are one of the worst teams in the league and are 8.5 points behind the Steelers in my roster rankings, so we’re getting good line value with the Steelers. The Eagles are also in a tough spot as they have an even tougher game on deck at home against the Ravens. Big upcoming home games like that tend to serve as a distraction, as teams are 37-60 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 6 or more. It’s even tougher for teams when it is back-to-back tough games, as teams are 51-73 ATS since 2016 as underdogs of 6 or more before being underdogs of 6 or more again the following week. I don’t love the Steelers, but they’re worth a bet at -7 and I’d consider a larger bet at 6.5. It’s going to be tough for the Eagles to keep this one close.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -7

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)

The Texans are off to an 0-2 start, which is not a surprise, as their season began in pretty much the most difficult way imaginable, with games against the Chiefs and Ravens. The bigger concern is that the Texans weren’t particularly competitive in either game, losing by a combined 31 points and having a first down rate differential of -5.79% across the two games, 5th worst in the NFL through 2 weeks. Also concerning is that their schedule doesn’t immediately get easier, with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck.

The Steelers haven’t really been tested yet in their 2-0 start, but I had them as a top-10 team coming into the season and they’re getting healthier, with stud right guard David DeCastro set to return, which will give them a big boost upfront. I have them 6th in my roster rankings right now, about 4.5 points above the Texans. Adding two points for reduced homefield advantage, I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with them as only 4-point favorites.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend betting the Steelers, because the Texans are in a good spot. Not only are the Texans in desperate need of a win at 0-2, while the Steelers are 2-0, the Steelers also have a much tougher game on deck with the also 2-0 Titans in Tennessee, while the Texans will be hosting the also 0-2 Vikings in Houston. Underdogs are 78-38 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions should be true here. I’m taking the Steelers for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not confident.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Houston Texans 23

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -4

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (0-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Just a week into the season, the Broncos are arguably the most injury-affected team in the league. Already missing edge defender Von Miller for the season with injury before the season started, the Broncos will also be without middle linebacker Mark Barron, cornerback AJ Bouye, running back Philip Lindsay, and possible top receiver Courtland Sutton due to injury. The Steelers have injury problems of their own on the right side of their offensive line, with right guard David DeCastro and his backup Stefen Wisniewski both out, as well as right tackle Zach Banner, but they don’t have injuries affecting multiple units and team functions like the Broncos do. 

The Broncos only lost their opener by 2 at home to the Titans, but that would have been 12 if the Titans could have made makeable kicks and quarterback Drew Lock, whose development is the single biggest factor in this team’s chances this year, struggled against a banged up Titans defense, finishing 30th out of 32 eligible quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus in week one. There was a time earlier this off-season when I thought they could compete for a playoff spot, but they rank just 27th in my roster rankings right now. Given that, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Steelers as 8-point favorites. I have this line calculated at 9.5, which is not enough line value for them to be worth betting, but that may change if Sutton doesn’t play and they’re the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

Update: Sutton will play, but this line has fallen all the way to 6.5, crossing the key number of 7. The Steelers should be able to win by at least a touchdown against a Broncos team that is missing other key players and that still doesn’t appear to have a serviceable starter under center.

Pittsburgh Steelers 22 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: PIttsburgh -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)

I have these two teams about 7 points apart in my roster rankings, so this line is accurate, favoring the Steelers by 6 points on the road in New York against a Giants team that won’t have any fans. However, this is the kind of game the Steelers have not fared well in under Mike Tomlin. Since Tomlin took over as the head coach in 2007, the Steelers are just 4-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 points or more.

I’m not sure that’s totally relevant this week though, for a couple reasons. The obvious one is the lack of fans, but also, because this is week 1, the Steelers are probably less likely to sleepwalk through a game against an underwhelming non-divisional opponent  (none of the previous instances that the Steelers have been significant non-divisional road favorites came in week 1). I’m still taking the Giants for pick ‘em purposes, but there isn’t nearly enough here for me to take them with any sort of confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 21 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: None