Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, a predictive metric based on yards per play, first down rate, and strength of schedule, the Steelers are by far the worst team in the league to qualify for the post-season, finishing 30th, 16th, 17th, and 29th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. Given that, it’s unsurprising that they needed an 8-2-1 record in one score games to qualify for the final post-season spot in the AFC. 

They go to Kansas CIty as 12.5 point underdogs, which might seem like a lot, but it’s probably not high enough, as the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the league, with an offense that ranks 1st in schedule adjusted efficiency, a special teams that ranks 3rd, a defense that has much better than their 28th ranked schedule adjusted efficiency since getting healthy after a terrible start to a season, and a mixed efficiency that ranks 5th even with their underwhelming defensive rank. Given how far below average the Steelers were this season, my calculated line actually has the Chiefs favored by 17 points.

Big favorites tend to cover in the first round of the post-season anyway, as there tends to be a good reason why they are favored by that many points, with double digit favorites going 9-2 ATS over the past 30 seasons. Simply put, teams like the Steelers that many feel are not playoff caliber, usually tend not to be and get exposed very quickly. On top of that, there also tends to be more blowouts in general in the post-season, especially in the first round. 

While the percentage of games decided by 7 points or more in the first round of the playoffs (61.68%) is steady with the regular season percentage (62.34%), the percentage of games decided by 10 points or more jumps significantly in the first round of the post-season (52.34% vs. 48.52%) and the same is true of games decided by 14 points or more (39.25% vs. 35.33%). That is surprising when you consider that these are all games between playoff qualifiers, who should be more evenly matched than the league as a whole. 

This is likely because teams get desperate and start going for it on long 4th downs earlier in the game in the post-season in an attempt to save their season, leading to more games getting out of hand. Also better team tends to play their best football at the right time. That’s what I expect to happen here, so even at 12.5 I am confident in the Chiefs covering this spread. I wouldn’t make this a big play, but this one seems like an obvious blowout that, based on history, should not be overthought.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -12.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

The Ravens have lost five straight games, including the last four without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, but it hasn’t been as bad as that sounds, as their only loss over that stretch by more than two points came in a game started by third string quarterback Josh Johnson. Second string quarterback Tyler Huntley has been Jackson’s replacement in the other three games and remains the starter in this game, having played reasonably well thus far. 

The Ravens are also healthier on defense than they’ve been recently, with edge defender Justin Houston, interior defenders Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, cornerback Jimmy Smith, and safety Chuck Clark all returning from short-term absences, which have been in part to blame for their recent struggles on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers are also relatively healthy and they have a slightly better record at 8-7-1, but that’s in large part due to 7-2 record in one-score games, with the Ravens possessing a significant edge in point differential (-2 vs. -58) and schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (16th vs. 27th).

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty open secret that the Steelers aren’t as good as their record, to the point where the Ravens are 3.5-point favorites even with a backup quarterback and a 5-game losing streak. We’re actually still getting a little bit of line value, as my calculated line has the Ravens favored at home by 5 points, but it’s not enough to be confident in the Ravens at all. They’re the pick, but only for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: This line has dropped to 3, so I am going to boost the confident on Baltimore a little bit at that number.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)

The Steelers are 7-7-1, but their seven wins have been very different than their seven losses, as their seven wins have all come by one score and by a combined 32 points, while their seven losses have come by a combined 102 points, with five losses coming by multiple scores. That gives them a point differential of -70 that ranks 23rd in the NFL and in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, they are even more underwhelming, ranking 29th, 20th, 21st and 29th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency on the season.

The Browns have a worse record at 7-8, but six of their losses have come by six points or fewer and they rank much better in schedule adjusted efficiency, ranking 16th, 8th, and 22nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 14th in overall mixed efficiency. They aren’t fully healthy on either side of the ball, but they are healthier than they have been in recent weeks, especially on offense, where they have quarterback Baker Mayfield about as healthy as he’s been all season with at least four fifths of the Browns’ dominant offensive line that has seldom been together this season. 

On defense, the Browns have some absences in the secondary, with Troy Hill, Ronnie Harrison, and John Johnson out, but their secondary hasn’t been healthy all season and they are getting back edge defender Jadeveon Clowney from a short absence. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the Browns in the past week, with this line moving from Pittsburgh -1 to Cleveland -3.5 in the past week, as a result of the Steelers’ blowout loss in Kansas City. My calculated line of Cleveland -4 still suggests the Browns should be the right side, but we’re getting such insignificant line value that I can’t be confident in the Browns at all.

Update: This line has shifted all the way from Cleveland -3.5 to Pittsburgh -2.5 because the Browns have been eliminated from the post-season, while the Steelers still technically are alive. I don’t think that should have triggered that big of a shift, as this is still a big divisional game for the Browns, who won’t want the Steelers to keep their playoff hopes alive against them on national television, especially since the Steelers beat them earlier this year. Teams tend to cover in this situation anyway, covering the spread at a 56.8% rate as divisional road underdogs against an opponent who previously won as road underdogs against them earlier in the season. I was hoping we would get a full field goal so I could take the Browns against the spread, but the best value in this game in the money line, as the Browns should be no worse than 50/50 to win this game and likely should still be favored, even given the circumstances.

Cleveland Browns 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

I am not locking in a lot of bets this week until gameday morning because of COVID uncertainty, but this is one I want to lock in right now. The Chiefs are currently missing two of their most important players, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as starting right tackle Lucas Niang, but it’s possible all three could be cleared before gametime and, even if some or all aren’t, I still think we are getting line value with the Chiefs at their current number, favored by 8.5 points over the Steelers. Even missing those three players, my calculated line favors the Chiefs by 12.5.

The Chiefs got off to a slow start this season, sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of the season, but their biggest problems were the turnover margin (-10 through the first 7 games of the season) and their horrendous defensive play. However, their defense has since gotten healthy (cornerback Charvarius Ward, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and defensive tackle Chris Jones all missed time early in the season) and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to a huge defensive improvement, while their turnover margin has predictably swung as well, as they have been at +10 in the seven games since their slow start.

Between the turnover margin and their much improved defensive efficiency, the Chiefs have won all seven games by an average of 14.85 points per game since their 3-4 start, leading to them now being all alone in the #1 seed in the AFC at 10-4. Obviously the Chiefs’ offensive injuries hurt, but I have enough confidence in Patrick Mahomes even without his top weapons to still lead a strong offensive performance, while their defense should continue being a complementary unit. 

It also helps the Chiefs that they are playing a Steelers team that is nowhere near as good as their 7-6-1 record. While their six wins have come by just a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, four of their six losses have come by multiple scores, with the only exceptions being games in which they still lost the first down rate and yards per play battles by 12.24% and 3.1 respectively against the Chargers and 2.22% and 1.4 respectively against the Vikings, which is more predictive than the final score. On the season, the Steelers rank just 28th, 20th, 20th, and 26th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which are based on yards per play and first down rate differential. 

The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, despite their injury plagued start to the season on defense. Even without Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs have a good chance to pick up their 7th multiscore win of the season and to hand the Steelers their 5th multiscore loss, and the possibility that one or both might still play makes this an even more intriguing bet. I am going to lock this in as my Pick of the Week now, given the uncertainty on the rest of this week’s schedule.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -8.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers are 6-6-1, but they haven’t been nearly as good as their record. While their six wins have come by just a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, four of their six losses have come by multiple scores, with the only exceptions being games in which they still lost the first down rate and yards per play battles by 12.24% and 3.1 respectively against the Chargers and 2.22% and 1.4 respectively against the Vikings. On the season, the Steelers rank just 28th, 26th, 20th, and 27th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency.

The Titans aren’t as good as their record either, as they have gone 4-1 in one score games and have not nearly been as good on offense since losing top wide receiver AJ Brown and feature back Derrick Henry, but they have the better record at 9-4 and, even if they aren’t as good as their record, they are still clearly the better of these two teams because the Steelers aren’t as good as their record either. Despite that, the Titans are underdogs of 1.5 points in Pittsburgh, suggesting the odds makers and the public view the Titans as only marginally better than the Steelers, if they view them as better at all. 

My calculated line has the Titans favored by 2.5 points and you could justify favoring them by the full field goal on the road, as the Steelers are legitimately a well below average team overall, not performing well in any of the three phases of the game. This is one matchup where neither team has been affected by positive COVID tests this week and with the line having already swung in Pittsburgh’s favor, I don’t expect to get a better number with the Titans, so this is a bet I want to lock in now. The money line is the best value, but the Titans are worth a bet against the spread as well at +1.5.

Tennessee Titans 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

A week ago on the early line, the Vikings were favored by 4.5 points in this matchup, but this line has since fallen all the way down to 3, a significant shift, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week’s result. In this case, the Steelers beat the previously 8-3 Ravens last week, while the Vikings lost to the previously winless Lions, but I don’t think either result was that surprising or should have triggered this shift.

Both games came down to the final play and both the Ravens and Lions have played a lot of close games this year, despite their significantly different records, so the fact that the former finally lost one and the latter finally won one is not a surprise. As bad as the Vikings’ loss to the Lions was last week, the Steelers nearly lost to the Lions at home earlier this season, a game that ended in a tie, and, overall, the Steelers have been a much worse team than the Vikings this season, despite having a slightly better record.

Including last week’s close win over the Ravens, the Steelers have won their six games by a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, while their five losses have come by a combined 68 points, with their only one-score loss coming in Los Angeles, in a game in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead, despite losing the first down rate battle by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play. 

The Steelers other four losses all came by multiple scores, while the Vikings have not lost by more than one score all season and possess a significant edge in point differential (+3 vs. -42). In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Steelers rank 26th, while the Vikings rank 18th. The Vikings are also a lot healthier this week than they were a week ago and the significant amount of missing personnel they had last week in Detroit is a big part of the reason why they lost. 

They will still be without their top two edge defenders Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen and their starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, while #2 wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss his first game of the season, but they will get back their top cornerback Patrick Peterson and their top two linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and could also get back feature back Dalvin Cook and key reserve defensive back Camryn Bynum, all of whom missed last week’s game. This comes a couple weeks after the Vikings got their starting defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back. 

The Vikings are still not as healthy as they were earlier in the season, but last week was their low point of the season from an injury standpoint and they should play a lot better now that they are healthier. They have a significant talent edge over the Steelers, who remain without top cornerback Joe Haden and are now down to their third string left guard. Overall, I have the Vikings 5.5 points better in my roster rankings right now, with Bynum and Cook factored in as legitimately questionable, so we are getting a ton of line value with the Vikings as only 3-point home favorites, a line that suggests the Vikings are only barely better than the Steelers.

This is also a very tough spot for the Steelers, who have to come on the road and face an unfamiliar non-divisional and non-conference opponent on a short week, as underdogs. All-time, non-divisional road underdogs cover at just a 34.5% rate on Thursday Night Football when both teams are on short rest. Making matters worse for the Steelers, they are coming off of an emotional win over the Ravens. 

Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go for two not only led to the Steelers’ victory, but also spared the Steelers from being in a near-impossible spot this week, as they would have had to play on a short week after an overtime game, a 16% all-time cover spot, but the Steelers’ defense was still on the field for 69 plays in a game that went down to the wire and, even if the game didn’t go to overtime, they figure to be the more tired of these two teams. 

On top of that, teams cover at just a 43.3% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of four points or more, as teams tend to find it tough to bring that same level of intensity two weeks in a row. I like the Vikings enough as a field goal favorites in this game that it would probably be my Pick of the Week if it was a weekend game, but I don’t like to make my Pick of the Week on Thursdays because these games can be weird sometimes and it’s possible I like a game this weekend more and, even if this isn’t my Pick of the Week, this is still a big play.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: High

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)

The Steelers are 5-5-1, but all five of their wins have come by one score, their five losses have come by an average of 13.6 points per game, and their tie came against the winless Lions. The Steelers’ only close loss came against the Chargers in a game in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. The Steelers other four losses all came in double digits.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 8-3, but they aren’t blowing teams out and have needed a 6-1 record in one score games to be where they are in the standings. The Steelers are missing stud edge defender TJ Watt and, without him, are one of the worst teams in the league, so we are getting some line value with the Ravens as 4.5-point road favorites, even with all of the close games they played, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Ravens’ final scores this season would have covered this spread in just four of eleven games. I don’t see this being a blowout, especially since Lamar Jackson has not been as good in his career against teams he has faced before, including the Steelers, but I would still pick the Ravens if I had to.

Update: Watt surprisingly will be able to play in this game, though it’s unclear if he’ll be 100%. Still, that is a big boost for the Steelers and yet the line has not moved, at least not yet. I am going to flip this pick to the Steelers, but this is still a no confidence pick, as the Steelers could easily get blown out again, even if the Ravens aren’t the kind of team that blows teams out.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +4.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

I have bet against the Steelers frequently this season, as I have considered them overrated throughout. They went 12-4 a year ago, but they were not as good as their record, winning a lot of close games against an easy schedule. They were also carried by a dominant defense, which seemed unlikely to be able to keep up that level of play because of off-season losses and the overall relatively non-predictive nature of defensive performance, when compared to offensive performance. This season, the Steelers have started 5-4-1, but they are once again worse than their record. 

While all of the Steelers’ wins have come by one score, three of their four losses were by multiple scores, with the only exception being a game against the Chargers last week in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. 

The Steelers’ offense has continued to struggle, ranking 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency, while their defense has fallen off significantly, ranking 23rd in schedule adjusted efficiency, as injuries have hit them harder than expected. Only their 15th ranked special teams is a passable unit and special teams is the least predictive of the three phases. Overall, they rank just 26th in mixed efficiency, which is much worse than their record would suggest.

That being said, I am going to take the Steelers this week, for a few reasons. For one, they are getting significantly healthier on defense, at least compared to a week ago, with edge defender TJ Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick both set to return from short absences and cornerback Joe Haden seeming likely to join them after a short absence as well. The Steelers’ are still missing a pair of key defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, the latter of whom has not played all season, but they won’t be as short-handed as they were a week ago.

The Steelers are also in a good spot this week, as divisional road underdogs in a regular season rematch of a game in which the Steelers lost as home favorites, dropping their week three matchup in Pittsburgh against the Bengals by a final score of 24-10 as 3-point favorites. Teams tend to get revenge in this spot, or at least exceed expectations, covering at a 57.5% rate historically. On top of that, the Bengals are also an overrated team, as their 6-4 record has come against one of the easiest schedules in the league. 

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank 25th, 19th, 9th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams and, overall, they rank 23rd in mixed efficiency. That’s still better than the Steelers and this line, which favors the Bengals by 3.5 points at home, is fair, but when you add in that the Steelers are in a better spot, they look like the right side. This is a no confidence pick because we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals, but the Steelers are the pick for pick ‘em purposes because of the spot they are in.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +3.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-4)

Typically the rule of thumb with the Chargers is to bet them on the road and bet against them at home. The Chargers hardly have any fans in Los Angeles and usually play in front of mostly road crowds, which means they don’t have a typical homefield advantage, but it also means they tend to be underrated away from home. Overall, the Chargers are 21-13 ATS on the road and 13-21 ATS at home since moving to Los Angeles.

However, the Chargers do have one big advantage this week, with this game being at night against an Eastern Time Zone opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A Pacific Time Zone team covers at about a 67% rate all-time in a night game against an Eastern Time Zone team, regardless of where the game is played. The Steelers are likely to be feeling much more tired in the second half because they are accustomed to a later time zone, which should allow the Chargers to pull away. It doesn’t help matters for the Steelers that they are coming off of a long overtime game, which resulted in a tie. There is limited history, but teams are just 11-17 ATS all-time after a tie, so the Steelers could be especially tired in this game.

The Chargers only have one win this season by more than six points and, dating back to the start of last season, they have just three wins by more than six points, with one coming against the Chiefs backups in a meaningless week 17 game and another coming against the eventual 1-15 Jaguars. That makes it tough to confidently bet on the Chargers as 6-point favorites, but the Steelers are missing some key personnel and, despite their record, might be among the worst teams in the league right now.

The Steelers have been outscored by 33 points in their three losses, while outscoring their opponents by just 25 points in their five wins and, of course, last week they played to a tie with the winless Lions at home in Pittsburgh. The Steelers did not have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in that game against the Lions and he will return this week, but the way he has played this season, that barely matters, as he’s not much of an upgrade on Mason Rudolph. It’s very possible the Steelers would have still struggled to pull out a win over the Lions even with Roethlisberger in the lineup.

The Steelers went 12-4 a year ago, but they were not as good as their record, winning a lot of close games against an easy schedule, and they were carried by a dominant defense, with their offense being among the worst in the league. This season, their offense has been about the same, ranking 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency, but their defense has fallen to 20th in schedule adjusted efficiency. In general, it’s much tougher to maintain high level defensive play year-to-year than high level offensive play, but the Steelers lost significant personnel in the off-season and have continued to lose key players to injury, so they have had more regression than most top defenses and will likely see that continue as their injury list grows.

Already without key defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, the Steelers will now be without Defensive Player of the Year candidate TJ Watt, talented safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and top cornerback Joe Haden this week. Meanwhile, their offense, which already has one of the worst offensive lines in the league, will be without their best offensive lineman Kevin Dotson. A mediocre team even when not missing all these key personnel, I have the Steelers six points below average in my roster rankings. 

The Chargers didn’t have many blowout wins last season and don’t have many blowout wins this season, but they are still better than they were a year ago and their lack of blowout wins this season probably has more to do with their schedule, which has been among the toughest in the league. They haven’t faced an easy opponent since their week one trip to Washington and it’s arguable that this game against the Steelers at night is an even easier matchup than that.

The Chargers are only two points above average in my roster rankings and shouldn’t get the full homefield advantage adjustment, but we’re still getting good line value at -6 with the Chargers, who are in a good spot and have enough of a talent edge in this game to get a rare multi-score victory. I am not placing a bet on the Chargers right now, because I am hoping this line drops to 5.5 and I want to confirm that Joey Bosa, who still needs to clear COVID protocols, will play, but it’s very possible I will be doing an update and betting this game before gametime.

Update: There has not been confirmation on Bosa’s status, but heavy sharp action on the Steelers has shifted this line down to 5. Bosa will play unless he surprisingly tests positive today, so I want to lock this in before it goes back up as the Chargers are simply a much more talented team than the Steelers, given all that the Steelers are missing.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 13

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a 12-4 team a year ago, but many of their wins came by small margins against weak opponents, with a dominant defense masking significant flaws on offense. As their schedule got harder, the Steelers, who won their first 11 games, lost five of their final six games, including a first round playoff exit. Overall, just three of their twelve wins came by more than ten points and their nine games that were within that margin of 10 included teams like the Giants, Broncos, Texans, Eagles, and Cowboys, who all finished 6-10 or worse, as well as a matchup against a Ravens team that was playing many backups due to a COVID outbreak.

Coming into this season, the Steelers’ didn’t look noticeably improved on offense, while their defense had the potential to be significantly worse than last year’s dominant unit, as a result of off-season losses and general regression to the mean. The Steelers have gotten out to a 5-3 start, despite their schedule being tougher than a year ago, but they have not been as good as their record, as their three losses have come by more points combined (33) than their five wins (25). In fact, their biggest margin of victory all season is just seven points.

Despite that, the Steelers are still favored by 8.5 points in this game. The Lions may seem like a team they should be favored by more than a touchdown against, as they are the league’s last remaining winless team, but that doesn’t mean they are the worst team in the league, as many of their losses have been close. On average, their losses have come by an average of 13.8 points per game and their -110 point differential is not the worst in the league, but even that makes it seem like they’ve been blown out more than they have been, as five of their eight losses have been kept within 10 points and one of their three losses by more than 10 points came in a game in which the Lions led the Packers at halftime in Green Bay. 

Overall, the Lions rank 24th, 27th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which isn’t too far behind the Steelers, who haven’t been particularly good on any side of the ball this season, ranking 16th, 20th, and 17th respectively in those three metrics. The Lions should also get a boost in this matchup with talented left tackle Taylor Decker set to make his season debut after missing all of the season to this point with injury, a significant re-addition for this team. Given how many close games these two teams tend to play and that the Lions are getting healthier, I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -5.5, so we’re getting significant line value with the Lions at +8.5.

The Lions’ biggest margin of defeat of the season came in their most recent matchup, a 44-6 defeat at home against the Eagles, but they were likely flat in that matchup after giving their best effort against the Rams in a close loss the week before, and that blowout loss should put the Lions in a good spot this week, as they will be embarrassed after that loss and will likely be much more focused to try to prove people wrong. In total, teams cover at a 58.7% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, in part because teams tend to give their best effort after being embarrassed, but also partially because teams tend to be overlooked after a blowout loss. 

Going off of that, the Lions being winless is another reason they could be overlooked and, typically as a result of being overlooked, winless teams tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering at a 64.9% rate in week 9 or later. The Steelers are especially likely to overlook the Lions given that they have a much tougher game on deck in Los Angeles against the Chargers on Sunday Night Football next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 42.9% rate before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is at least 50% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage. With the Lions in a much better spot than the Steelers, who are overvalued as 8.5-point favorites, the Lions are an easy choice in this matchup against the spread and are worth a big play.

Update: I am glad I locked this in at 8.5, because Ben Roethlisberger is out for this game with COVID and the Steelers will turn to backup Mason Rudolph. The line has dropped to 6 as a result. For those wondering, I would still bet the Lions at 6, but not for as big of a play because I don’t think there is much difference between Roethlisberger and Rudolph and a line movement that involved key numbers of 6 and 7 is significant. With Rudolph under center, my calculated line is Pittsburgh -3.5. There is a decent chance the Lions could win their first game of the season this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +8.5

Confidence: High