Week 14 kicks off as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the New England Patriots in a matchup of two teams with issues at quarterback.
So what is worth betting? And what should you avoid?
Betting analysts Eric Moody, Seth Walder, Anita Marks, Tyler Fulghum and Aaron Schatz are here to provide their thoughts.
Note: Odds by ESPN BET.
Patriots at Steelers (-6, 30.5). The Patriots have major quarterback issues and the Steelers lost Kenny Pickett last week and now turn to Mitch Trubisky. How are you betting this game?
Moody: This could be the ugliest ‘Thursday Night Football’ game this season. The Patriots offense is the worst in the league, ranking 28th in total yards and 32nd in points scored per game. Against a Steelers defense that has allowed the sixth fewest points per game, New England will struggle to score points. Although Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been a juggernaut this season, Trubisky is one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks and has started 55 games so far in his career. As the Steelers look to secure a spot in the AFC playoff picture, Mike Tomlin’s team should relish the opportunity to capitalize and cover against an inferior opponent. This season, Pittsburgh is 7-0 against the spread at home.
Fulghum: I like this spot for the Steelers -6. They’re coming off a disappointing loss, and get a home matchup against an offensively challenged opponent. This line opened at -5.5 so the money has been more black and yellow throughout the week. The Patriots are 2-10 ATS this season, worst in the NFL. That’s tied for the most ATS losses in a single season in Bill Belichick’s Patriots career. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin is 4-0 ATS after a loss this season and has covered seven straight games after a loss.
Marks: Steelers team total UNDER 18.5. Pickett is out and Trubisky is in, quarterbacking an offense that was already struggling to score points. They will also be without LG Isaac Seumalo against a Patriots defense that hasn’t allowed over 30 points their last three games. I expect the Patriots’ defense to limit the Steelers rushing game and place the pressure on Trubisky to put up points.
The 30.5 total would be the lowest NFL total since the 2005 NFC Divisional Playoffs (Panthers at Bears). Are you betting the over/under, and if so which way are you betting it?
Schatz: This total is so low. It’s so, so low. It’s so hard to go under a total this low. There hasn’t been a game under 32 since the Browns and Bengals in Week 16 of 2008. And yet… from 2002 to 2008, there were 10 games with totals under 32, and the unders went 7-3! My DVOA numbers suggest that the Steelers offense really hasn’t been that bad this year. They’ve just had trouble with the league’s second-hardest schedule of opposing defenses. Which would be fine except the Patriots are a pretty good defense! And the Steelers are an even better defense, fifth in DVOA. So I’m holding my nose and going UNDER 30.5 here.
Fulghum: I’m not afraid of UNDER 30.5. In fact, I made that my best bet on Monday’s episode of ESPN Bet Live (we’re back on air Friday, December 8th). The Patriots offense has withered away into nothingness, and right when optimism seemed legit for the Steelers, Pickett gets injured and we’re back reliving the Trubisky experience. So far 10 of 12 Steelers games this season have finished under the total, the highest UNDER% in the entire NFL.
Marks: I’m also on the UNDER. The prime time under trend is the real deal, and I’m going to continue to ride it, especially with two anemic offenses taking the field. Each offense has only 16 offensive touchdowns. The Steelers are sporting a backup quarterback, and both teams are very committed to running the ball, hence eating up time of possession.
What is the bigger loss? Rhamondre Stevenson for the Patriots or Kenny Pickett for the Steelers? Both are out for this game.
Moody: Stevenson is the bigger loss. From Weeks 1 through 12, he averaged 16.7 touches and 74.4 total yards per game. In the last three games, the Patriots have averaged 33.0 rushing attempts per game. Considering New England’s quarterback woes and because their offensive line ranks fifth in run block win rate, it makes sense. Although Elliott will do his best to fill the void left by Stevenson, let’s not fool ourselves; he’s no longer the explosive playmaker he once was early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Fulghum: I think Stevenson is the bigger loss. He’s really the only legitimately talented offensive weapon the Patriots can deploy. Trubisky is likely a downgrade from Pickett, but he’ll have the benefit of playing at home with a superior defense. If this game was in Foxborough I might think different, but in Pittsburgh the bigger loss is on the Pats side.
Schatz: Quarterback is the most important position on the field, period. Running backs are mostly replaceable. There certainly are running backs who move the needle, but I don’t think Rhamondre Stevenson is in that Christian McCaffrey/Nick Chubb category. Pickett had roughly the same QBR as Trubisky last year, but there’s a reason the Steelers were starting him ahead of Trubisky. I can’t imagine the decline from Stevenson to Elliott is any bigger than Pickett to Trubisky, so since quarterback is more important, Pickett is the bigger loss.
Walder: I agree with Aaron’s premise, but that’s why my answer is Stevenson. At this point Pickett’s season has gone poorly enough — he ranks 26th out of 29 qualifying quarterbacks this year — that I might slightly prefer Pittsburgh’s chances with Trubisky under center as opposed to Pickett. So while QB matters much more, this loss could be a positive for Pittsburgh. It’s at least worth a look because, like Aaron also noted, Trubisky very slightly outperformed Pickett in QBR last season.
What’s your favorite prop bet Thursday?
Moody: Allen Robinson II OVER 1.5 receptions. Robinson has exceeded this line in two of his pat three games. At plus odds, this is one prop I’m drawn to. Robinson and Trubisky played together with the Bears, so they already developed a good rapport. Robinson has caught 68.4% of his targets this season and, given his catch percentage, he would surpass 1.5 receptions if he sees three to four targets against the Patriots. This season, New England’s defense has allowed the ninth most receptions to wide receivers.
Schatz: I’ve got an even better stat. The Patriots rank dead last in DVOA to “other receivers,” as in WR3 or deeper. They allow 6.5 average targets and 58 average yards to these receivers. So I’ll second Eric’s pick of Robinson over 1.5 receptions.
Marks: Malik Cunningham anytime TD. It hasn’t hit the board yet. But backup QB Cunningham has been taking a few red zone snaps at practice this week. If active, the odds may be too tempting to pass up. Keep an eye out!
Walder: Mitch Trubisky under 0.5 interceptions (+115). He’s had a higher-than-average 3.1% interception rate since the start of last season but my model makes the under -111 in part because the Steelers are 6-point favorites. The Patriots offense is so dreadful that the Steelers should be able to employ a conservative game-plan once they get ahead, and that limits interception opportunities.
Is there anything else you’re playing on Thursday?
Moody: Steelers UNDER 17.5 total points. Pittsburgh has averaged only 16.1 points at home this season and that was with Kenny Pickett under center. On a short week, the Steelers will turn to Trubisky against a Patriots defense that has allowed only 8.7 points per game over the last three games, the fewest in the league. I don’t see Pittsburgh scoring a lot here.
Schatz: The Steelers rank 27th in offensive DVOA in the first half of games and a shocking fifth in the second half of games. Their defense goes from 13th in the first half to fourth in the second half. This game could be easily tied at halftime if the score is as low as we’re all expecting, so I’ll take the positive payout and bet on the Patriots first half +0.5 at +135.