Pittsburgh Steelers +7.5 (-105) @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
September 10, 2015, 5:30pm
With deflategate now in the rearview mirror, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are clear to focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be visiting Gillette Stadium this afternoon to inaugurate the 2015-2016 NFL season.
Several approaches we believe in give the Black and Yellow a slight edge versus the Pats. A quantitative (rankings) methodology based on ESPN's newly minted NFL Football Power Index makes New England 6.4 point favorites after accounting for home field advantage, implying just over a point of value for the contrarians among us willing to take a chance on the road, dogs.
[FPI is intended to measure strength and, more importantly, predict teams' success. The calculation methodology for FPI is extremely robust, incorporating variables such as quarterback substitutions, prior play, rest, altitude, distance travelled and seasonal factors. Top-tier statisticians, such as those at FiveThirtyEight.com, endorse the FPI methodology. See here for a more detailed description.]
In addition to a rankings based approach, our two favorite third-party simulation systems anticipate a New England win by 1.5 and 3.4 point margins -- each well south of the 7.5 point bogey required for the Pats to cover.
We are comfortable with the output from our rankings and simulation-based models for several reasons. For one, we agree with FiveThirtyEight's expectation that Tom Brady will likely regress this year, from being among the most elite QBs in the league, to a mere very good NFL quarterback. Father Time is the likely culprit for any slippage in production that befalls Brady. One account suggests QBs that play into their late-30s tend to peak at 36ish, with yards per attempt sliding and interception rates rising thereafter.
Additionally, Pittsburgh has made several key offseason shifts regarding its approach to defense, in an effort to get faster. While FPI pits the Steelers' defensive prowess among the lowest quadrant of all teams, if they are to remain within striking distance today, Pittsburgh will need to apply an array of schemes to get to Brady and disrupt his comfort.
On offense, look for Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball freely in this contest. With Le'Veon Bell serving out a suspension this week and next, the ground game is likely to play a decided second-fiddle to the aerial attack. Big Ben finished last season with the league's sixth highest QBR, so we expect this effort to bear some fruit against the Patriots' middle-of-the-pack defense.
[QBR is a stat developed by ESPN that measures aggregate play at the quarterback position on a scale of 0-100.]
Of note, the betting public is all over New England. 67% of wagers clocked by SportsInsights followed the Pats. Similarly, of the 6,000+ wagers on the radar of Cappers Mall, more than 82% favor New England.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the lopsided level of support thrown New England's way too favors the Steelers to cover the spread. OddsShark reports that over the last eight NFL seasons, betting against extremes in public sentiment led bettors to the cashier's booth a profitable 53%-54% of the time. The success rate for this strategy improves to 55% when considering only underdogs of at least a touchdown that are unloved by the public.
Bottom line: Against a backdrop of support from our preferred power rankings approach, our favorite simulation routines and a compelling sentiment environment, we are taking the 7.5 points and siding with the Pittsburgh Steelers to cover the spread at New England.