Every debate about the NFL’s elite starts with Patrick Mahomes. The Kansas City Chiefs are the league’s top power-rated team and Super Bowl favorites mostly due to Mahomes, who’s this year’s MVP and seems destined to become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
If he’s not sidelined by illness or injury, the only thing that can stop Mahomes is an elite defense.
So this is where the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the picture. Even at 10-0, the Steelers are playing second fiddle to Mahomes, the first violinist, yet Pittsburgh fits the profile of a team capable of taking down the reigning champs.
The Steelers have an experienced quarterback who can trade shots with Mahomes and a defense that can make him appear human and vulnerable. Pittsburgh ranks No. 1 in scoring defense at 17.4 points per game, and Ben Roethlisberger is putting up numbers — 24 touchdown passes and just five interceptions — that make him more than a candidate for comeback player of the year.
“I think Ben looks fantastic, and he should be in the MVP conversation,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “I do have the Steelers as the second-best team in the NFL.”
It’s a slim margin between the league’s top two teams. Andrews’ power ratings show the Chiefs as 1.5 points better than the Steelers. To earn the top seed and home field throughout the AFC playoffs, Pittsburgh might need to finish off a perfect regular season or at least go 15-1.
Kansas City (9-1) is a 3-point favorite Sunday at Tampa Bay and still must play at New Orleans in Week 15. As of today, the Saints look like the strongest team in the NFC.
Andrews has not posted a prop bet on the Steelers to finish 16-0 and scoffed at the idea, saying, “It’s almost impossible.”
The DraftKings price on the 16-0 prop is “No” -770 and “Yes” + 520. If the Steelers survive this week, their schedule the rest of the way is manageable, not impossible. Pittsburgh has home games remaining against Washington and Indianapolis and road trips to Buffalo, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
But the Steelers must first survive Thanksgiving night, so let’s look at the football menu for Turkey Day.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: When the AFC North rivals met Nov. 1 in Baltimore, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw a pick-six in the first minute. It could be said that negative play set the tone for the Ravens’ day, but it did not, because they rallied to lead 17-7 at halftime.
Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns in the second half, including the go-ahead score to rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool with 7:29 left, in the Steelers’ 28-24 win. Baltimore outgained Pittsburgh 457-221 yet finished minus-3 in turnover ratio.
“The Ravens really controlled the last game between those teams, and people tend to forget that because Jackson just doesn’t look good,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said.
Jackson, last season’s MVP, has obviously regressed. The first signs of trouble surfaced in Week 3, when Mahomes and the Chiefs, 3½-point underdogs, blew out Baltimore 34-20. As of today, the Ravens (6-4) are not a playoff team, and coach John Harbaugh needs to find a way to turn things around in a hurry.
“Most of these quarterbacks, once they have that big year, the defensive coordinators will figure it out, and I think that’s a big part of it with Jackson,” Andrews said. “The Ravens are going to be sky high for this game. Harbaugh will have his team ready. It’s going to be a tight game. I think the public will be on the Steelers.”
To make matters worse for the Ravens, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram tested positive for the coronavirus this week and will miss the game. The Steelers, 4-point underdogs in the first meeting, have flipped to 4-point favorites for the rematch.
“If you want to bet Baltimore, you might want to wait until Thursday night,” Murray said. “The number could go up, especially if the favorites win the first two Thanksgiving games.”
I will probably give the Ravens a look at + 4.5 or + 5. Harbaugh is 3-1-1 ATS in his last five trips to Pittsburgh, and Baltimore is 5-0 in the underdog role since last season.
Washington at Dallas: One of the worst bets I have made this season was on the Cowboys at pick-’em in their 25-3 loss at Washington in late October. Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton was knocked out with a concussion, but it was never a game anyway. The “Red Rifle” returned in Week 11 to fire three touchdown passes in a 31-28 win at Minnesota.
No player in the NFL has made a better comeback than Alex Smith, who threw for 166 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s 20-9 victory over Cincinnati. Smith gives the Football Team some hope in a hopeless division. Suddenly, first place in the NFC East is on the line. The winner in this clash of clumsy 3-7 teams will pass Philadelphia (3-6-1) in the win column.
“The public will bet on Dallas for sure,” Murray said. “Obviously, the Washington offense is much better with Smith in there instead of Dwayne Haskins.”
Ezekiel Elliott just recorded his first 100-yard rushing game of the season by carrying 21 times for 103 yards against the Vikings, and while I bet on the Cowboys last week as 7-point underdogs, it’s tough to trust them to do it again, this time in the favorite’s role.
For those into Thanksgiving trends, Dallas is 1-8 ATS in its last nine games on Turkey Day.
Houston at Detroit: The first game of the day will draw the weakest wagering handle, partly due to the early kickoff but mostly because it’s a weak game.
The Texans are 2-0 against Jacksonville and 1-7 against all other opponents, but they just upset New England and that should be enough to stir the betting public. It’s also easier to back Deshaun Watson as the better quarterback.
Matthew Stafford, playing with a bum right thumb, was sacked five times in the Lions’ 20-0 loss at Carolina in Week 11. Detroit was without top receiver Kenny Golladay and rookie running back D’Andre Swift. Golladay has a chance to play in this one, but Swift is doubtful.
“I can guarantee you Thursday morning we’ll be loaded on Houston, which is playing a Lions team that just got shut out,” Murray said. “The public wanted nothing to do with the Texans last week, but the public spins like a top and goes from team to team.”
Detroit, an underdog of 2½ to 3 points, has won three of its last 16 Thanksgiving games. My tip: Sleep in and tune in for the fourth quarter.