Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
September 24, 2018, 5:15PM PDT
Our power rankings composite gives the Bucs about a one-point edge as hosts to the Steelers in the third week of Monday Night Football. Accordingly, we are comfortable taking the road dogs plus 2 (-120) available at Bovada as of the time of this writing.
Consistent with our pick, we note that historically, bettors have done well to back Pittsburgh on the road when expectations are lowest. The black and yellow are 24-17-1 ATS (58%) as road dogs since drafting Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in 2004 (vs. a pedestrian 31-38-1 ATS record from the position of away favorites).
Further, according to Evan Abrams of The Action Network, Big Ben and Coach Mike Tomlin boast a 59% overall cover rate off a loss; this figure improves to 64% when only bounce-back games on the road are considered.
Separately, the wild variation seen in the betting line likewise augurs positively for Pittsburgh this evening. At some shops, the Steelers were favored by as much as a field goal a week ago. The line has swung wildly since, crossing the zero threshold three times before settling in the current +1.5/+2 ballpark...4-5 points away from the starting level.
The Action Network's John Ewing notes that it has been profitable to fade large line movements in prime time NFL action. Teams are 87-61-5 (59%) since 2003 when the betting spread moves at least two points in the opposition's favor.
Finally, fundamentally, season to date, Tampa Bay's aerial attack has been the 2nd best of the League, while the Steelers' passing game has been no better than middle-off-the-road. However, the Football Outsiders expect Tampa to slide from the #2 slot down to #10 by the end of the season. Such a regression would be consistent with the erratic nature of Fitzpatrick's performance over the whole of his career (see the chart below for details).
And while Pittsburgh is off to a decidedly sluggish start throwing the ball, Football Outsiders' full season projections place the Steelers at the top of the offensive heap. Again, such improvement would (more-or-less) be consistent with the steady-Eddie performance we have come to expect from the likes of Ben Roethlisberger.
We also note that the Bucs are particularly one-dimensional, ranking dead last in rushing (per the Football Ousiders DVOA metric). So if the passing game does eventually revert to its (much lower) mean, Tampa could find itself in big trouble.
Bottom line: It appears as though our power rankings composite, betting trends and smart stats are aligned in signalling potential peril in reading too much into Tampa Bay's hot start and Pittsburgh's early season lethargy. Buying low tonight: backing Pittsburgh +2.