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NFL Odds: Steelers vs. Bills
We have a mouth-watering AFC showdown on Sunday Night Football featuring two teams that we should see in the playoffs come January. Let’s take a closer look at both clubs, building a case for each before finishing up with my final thoughts on how to bet this matchup.
The Buffalo Bills are certainly trending in the right direction.
They say you can’t teach accuracy, but Josh Allen might be the exception to the rule: His progression in 2020 has been remarkable. Getting a wide receiver like Stefon Diggs certainly didn’t hurt.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is one of the best in the business right now in regards to play-calling for Buffalo’s very aggressive attack. Look no further than the Bills’ 35-point performance against the Rams’ defense, which has shut down every other offense it has faced this season.
Buffalo’s offense actually leads the NFL in third down conversion percentage, edging out Kansas City for the top spot.
The defense struggled over the first half of the season but has been trending up since the bye. The Bills have gotten healthier — Matt Milano makes such a difference out there — and implemented some scheme changes over the bye week that have led to positive results, especially at linebacker.
They’ve re-positioned Tremaine Edmunds to free him up more and unleashed A.J. Klein, who recently won AFC Defensive Player of the Week, as a pass rusher.
The defensive line is also getting more consistent after hitting rock-bottom against Kansas City when head coach Sean McDermott benched some starters in favor of a few practice squad players. Even slot corner Taron Johnson is playing better.
Buffalo remains a bit vulnerable against explosive runs, but that’s not something that Pittsburgh can really exploit.
Speaking of explosiveness, the Bills’ offense ranks in the top five. That could ultimately be the difference against an aggressive Steelers defense that will give up occasional big plays.
The Bills are a bona fide contender in the AFC and are playing as well as any team in the NFL at this moment. Getting them under a field goal at home is certainly appealing on the surface.
As I’ve mentioned on our podcast many times throughout the season, despite their record, the Steelers have flaws — particularly on offense: They have no balance on because they simply cannot run the football.
The problems start up front with the offensive line, which doesn’t have a single player ranked inside the top 100 of all qualified offensive linemen according to Pro Football Focus. Overall, the offensive line ranks 30th in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders. As a result, they rank dead last in expected yards per rushing attempt.
The Steelers do rank No. 1 in Adjusted Sack Rate, but that’s just because Ben Roethlisberger is getting rid of the ball so quickly.
This entire offense is reliant on a short passing attack that lacks explosiveness — Pittsburgh ranks 29th in the NFL in explosive play rate. That makes it very difficult on an offense to move the ball up and down the field with consistency, especially when there are major drop issues as we’ve seen in recent weeks. (At least you can expect some positive regression in the drops department.)
The defense is undoubtedly excellent, ranking No. 1 overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. However, they’ve benefited from the easiest schedule of opposing offenses in the league. They’ve also faced five backup quarterbacks, which is part of the reason they lead the NFL in both takeaways (23) and turnover differential (+11).
Regardless of turnover luck or schedule, we know that the defense is one of the top-three units in the league when healthy. However, they aren’t 100% healthy right now, with injuries leaving them shorthanded at both linebacker and cornerback ahead of Sunday night.
This is supposed to be a case for betting the Steelers, so let’s get to some reasons why Pittsburgh might be the right side here.
It’s a classic buy-low, sell-high spot with the Steelers coming off a loss to Washington and the Bills dismantling the 49ers on primetime this past Monday night. That’s part of the reason this spread has moved five points from the lookahead line prior to those results — overreacting to outcomes from one week in the NFL will get bettors in trouble more times than not.
This is also a classic Mike Tomlin spot. He’s one of the best motivators in the league — his teams always seem to thrive on the road against good teams when Tomlin can really get his guys up with an “us vs. the world” disrespect narrative. (On the flip side, his teams tend to come out very flat on the road against bad teams.)
His historical against the spread (ATS) results support this narrative:
- Tomlin is a stellar 17-5 ATS (77.3%) as road underdog against winning teams, covering by an average margin of 5.9 points. That’s the best mark out of 124 coaches in our Bet Labs database.
- He’s also a ridiculous 15-7 straight up in those 22 games. That means he’s won more than double the games he’s lost on the road against teams with above-.500 records. Extremely impressive.
You can expect the Steelers to come out with their hair on fire for this one.
There is a tad bit of value with Pittsburgh, even after adjusting for the injuries and for the fact that this will be their third game in 12 days. That said, I still make Buffalo a very small favorite, so I would need Pittsburgh +3 to take it.
The Steelers are a perfect teaser piece with where the line currently sits, though, as you can tease them through the key numbers of 3 and 7.
In regards to the total, I’d actually lean under at 48 or above. I’ve talked about some of the shortcoming of the Pittsburgh offense and the recent positive signs of the Buffalo defense. And as I previously mentioned, I expect Tomlin to have this Pittsburgh defense ready to roll from the jump.
For you trend folks, unders of 49 or lower in road Steelers games are on an absurd 31-4-2 (89%) run.
Double-digit winds are also in the forecast, which could assist the under, making passing and field goals a bit more difficult.
Pick: Under 49
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