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Steelers can show their mettle tonight

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

November 15, 2017 10:26 PM

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make a statement against a potential playoff opponent Thursday night when hosting the Tennessee Titans? A stat preview plus NBA and NHL in VSiN City.

NFL: Pittsburgh poised for a powerful finish and a potential #1 seed
Though the waters are still a bit muddy at the top of the AFC standings, with the New England Patriots (7-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2), and Kansas City Chiefs (6-3 with a win in Foxboro) in what amounts to a three-way fight for the two byes, the Gold and Black from Steel City are best positioned to earn the #1 seed.

  • Pittsburgh already beat Kansas City on the road
  • Pittsburgh gets to host New England on December 17
  • Pittsburgh has an easy schedule outside of the Pats game

On paper, the #1 seed is Pittsburgh’s to win. But the fact that the Steelers have an easy remaining schedule may not be such a good thing. They keep playing poorly vs. lousy opponents!

You’re surely familiar with teams in all sports who pad their records vs. weak opposition but struggle vs. quality (we’re looking at you Ohio State!). Pittsburgh has done the opposite this season, struggling vs. the three worst teams on their schedule, but playing some dominant football vs. their most dangerous opponents. Here’s a look (in parenthesis below, YPP stands for yards-per-play.)

Steelers vs. 73 and Below in our “market” Power Ratings
Pittsburgh (-10) only beat Cleveland 21-18 (winning YPP 5.4 to 3.8)
Pittsburgh (-7) lost at Chicago 23-17 in OT (losing YPP 4.9 to 4.8)
Pittsburgh (-10) only beat Indianapolis 20-17 (winning YPP 5.1 to 4.8)
Results: 0-3 ATS, plus 2.0 avg. margin in regulation

Three games a field goal or closer at the end of regulation. And, the stats were very ugly vs. the Bears and Colts. Taken alone, those would suggest Pittsburgh might not even be a .500 caliber team. 

Steelers vs. 79 and Above (playoff threats)
Pittsburgh (-9) crushed Minnesota 26-9 (winning YPP 4.9 to 4.0)
Pittsburgh (-3.5) crushed Baltimore 26-9 (winning YPP 5.2 to 4.2)
Pittsburgh (-7) lost to Jacksonville 30-9 (losing YPP 5.9 to 4.8)
Pittsburgh (plus 3.5) upset Kansas City 19-13 (winning YPP 7.0 to 4.8)
Pittsburgh (-3.5) crushed Cincinnati 29-14 (winning YPP 6.2 to 3.5)
Pittsburgh (-3) won at Detroit 20-15 (losing YPP 7.0 to 6.5)
Results: 5-1 ATS, plus 6.5 avg. margin in regulation

Note that I fudged a bit there because Cincinnati was seen as a possible threat to Pittsburgh at the time that game was played (plus 3.5 on the road), but isn’t Power Rated with that kind of respect right now. Clearly, when Pittsburgh is prioritizing a game…they are capable of running away and hiding. They learned a lesson from taking Jacksonville too lightly. Detroit is kind of a borderline challenge because it was on the road against a non-conference team the week before a bye. You get the sense that the Steelers gave themselves half-a-bye that week and won anyway.

Tennessee is a potential playoff opponent, because the Titans should either finish first or second in the AFC South in a year where there aren’t many real Wildcard threats. No way Pittsburgh takes Thursday night’s game off. And, they’re about as fresh as you can be this late in the season with only a bye and the Colts on the card the last two weeks. Unless Ben Roethlisberger self-destructs with turnovers, this lines up with those 27-13 type games against Minnesota, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. 

Those Baltimore and Cincinnati results are noteworthy because Tennessee just hosted those two teams the past two weeks…winning by only 3 and 4 points. Basically, coin flips with opponents that Pittsburgh pounded by a combined 55-23 score. 

Let’s get to the key indicator stats…

Tennessee (6-3) at Pittsburgh (7-2)
Las Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 7, total of 44
Estimated Market Power Ratings: Tennessee 80, Pittsburgh 84 

You regulars know we base the “market” Power Ratings on the actual lines. Home field advantage is generally worth 3 points in the NFL. That means the “market” sees Pittsburgh as FOUR better on a neutral field. We went with 84 and 80. Based on the “typical” performance from these teams, Pittsburgh feels more like an 85 when they show up with intensity (possibly higher), while Tennessee feels more like a 79 given their inability to get meaningful scoreboard distance from mediocrity. We’ll see. 

Yards-per-Play
Tennessee: 5.2 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. #32 ranked schedule)
Pittsburgh: 5.5 on offense, 4.8 on defense (vs. #18 ranked schedule)

Very important note here. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today currently ranks Tennessee’s schedule as the softest in the NFL. A week ago, Seattle had that #32 ranking. Tennessee slid back by playing sinking Cincinnati. The Titans grade out here as a non-playoff team…with only plus 0.1 in YPP differential against a very weak schedule. Pittsburgh has played roughly a league average schedule. That plus 0.7 is very solid…and that 4.8 mark on defense is fantastic. Though many of their skill position players make headlines, this is shaping up as a “defense wins championships” kind of team. 

Key Passing Stats 
Tennessee: 6.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 8 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown
Pittsburgh: 7.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 12 TD’s, 10 interceptions thrown

Wow…Pittsburgh isn’t throwing TD passes! That’s a great way to underachieve your stats. And it’s another reminder of what ‘isn’t” happening when they play the dregs. Instead of running up the stats and the score, Pittsburgh grinds. Worth noting that Marcos Mariota of Tennessee isn’t progressing at the speed hoped…and is the type of QB to run himself into contact and injuries. 

Pass Defense 
Tennessee: 6.5 yppa allowed; 17 TD’s allowed, 9 interceptions
Pittsburgh: 6.5 yppa allowed; 8 TD’s allowed, 8 interceptions

Pittsburgh’s pass defense is Tennessee’s pass offense…which is a credit to the host and a slam at the visitor. Some vulnerability there in the TD passes allowed category for the Titans. If this game gets away from them, it’s likely to be due to Big Ben connecting with his receivers. 

Impact Defense 
Tennessee: 33% third down pct-allowed, 14 takeaways, 14 sacks
Pittsburgh: 33% third down pct-allowed, 12 takeaways, 29 sacks

Both are stingy on third downs. Both are comparable in takeaways. Pittsburgh’s much more likely to earn a high impact sack that causes a turnover, forces a punt, or forces a field goal attempt. Then…look at those stat lines and remember that Tennessee’s played a very soft schedule while Pittsburgh has faced a league average schedule. It’s likely to be Pittsburgh’s defense that rules the night. 

The “market score” off a line of 7 and 44 is Pittsburgh 25.5, Tennessee 18.5. While it’s easy to cherry-pick Pittsburgh’s positives and Tennessee’s negatives to imagine a blowout…the stats we just looked at don’t make that a lock. Tennessee’s a pretty talented underdog to be getting a full touchdown. The fact that they couldn’t run away from Baltimore and Cincinnati doesn’t mean they can’t at least hang with Pittsburgh. Different skill sets. 

Given Pittsburgh’s proven tendencies to get results when they really care about a game, and the difficulty Mariota is likely to have on the road against a great defense, seems like the Steelers are worth considering for a lean at the key number of -7. 

NFL: Pennsylvania sits proudly atop South Point Futures prices
The Pittsburgh Steelers will take the field Thursday night as the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl according to this week’s Futures prices at the South Point. Their state partner, the Philadelphia Eagles, are the current favorite to represent the NFC, and to win the Lombardi Trophy

South Point NFL Futures (win percentage equivalent)
Philadelphia 3/1 (25%)
Pittsburgh 7/2 (22%)
New England 5/1 (17%)
New Orleans 5/1 (17%)

That’s the “big four” right now in the eyes of the market, two teams from each conference. New Orleans has gained a lot of respect in recent weeks. We showed part of the reason why back on Monday in our stat summaries from Sunday’s NFL. Those four teams alone account for an 81% win equivalent. But, as you regulars know, sportsbooks build a universe a lot higher than 100% to create a house edge. 

Other quality teams could crack the 5/1 barrier soon with big performances this week. The Los Angeles Rams visit Minnesota, while Atlanta visits Seattle. 

Kansas City 8/1 (11%)
Atlanta 10/1 (9%)
LA Rams 10/1 (9%)
Seattle 12/1 (8%)
Minnesota 20/1 (5%)

That adds up to 123% already and we still have some more teams to get to. You heard Mitch and Pauly talking the other day on “Follow the Money” about how hard it can be to find true “value” when betting Futures this deep into a season. Casual bettors often underestimate the size and power of the house edge whether you’re talking about the 11/10 on team sides and totals, or about futures prices. Any of those five teams are capable of making a run. Frankly, so are these next five teams…

Jacksonville 25/1 (4%)
Dallas 25/1 (4%)
Carolina 30/1 (3%)
Tennessee 30/1 (3%)
Detroit 40/1 (2%)

The Jaguars appear to have a Super Bowl caliber defense, which can be enough to survive January nailbiters. Dallas will be back to full strength with a fresh Ezekiel Elliott if they’re able to survive a tough slate to crash the brackets. Carolina just beat Atlanta recently, and is priced more comparably to the Falcons at many other locales. As always, be sure to shop around for the best prices on your favorite team. 

NBA: Updated estimate of “market” Power Ratings
We update our estimate of “market” Power Ratings in the NBA on Thursdays, to help set your mood for the weekly TNT doubleheaders. (Tonight: Golden State at red-hot Boston and Houston at Phoenix).

By now you know that we base these on point spreads. There is some give-and-take each night in the NBA because of injuries, back-to-back situations, and the like. Quick sample: Oklahoma City was -13 at home Wednesday night vs. Chicago. Knock off three for home court, and you get OKC as 10 better. We stuck them at 83 and 73. 

92: Golden State
84: Cleveland, Houston 
83: San Antonio, Oklahoma City
82: Boston, Toronto, Washington, Minnesota 
81: Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland 
80: Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando, New Orleans, Memphis, LA Clippers
78: Indiana
76: New York, Utah (Gobert adjustment)
75: Dallas, LA Lakers 
74: Brooklyn 
73: Atlanta, Chicago
72: Phoenix, Sacramento

That’s a really weird alignment, which is partially hidden because we take out the blank spots to save some space. Golden State is eight clear of the field…which means they’re more like sitting at the top of a space needle. Then we have a whopping 20 teams between 80 and 84, which creates a lot of very exciting basketball on a nightly basis. That level is “playoff caliber” even if only 16 teams are allowed in the postseason. NBA Twitter is raving about the action every evening. 

But below that hunk of great entertainment, we draw blanks at 79 and 77 then limp down through generic also-rans. Might be best to think of that as a 20-team NBA with one superpower. Then, a “Triple-A” like in baseball where teams in New York and Los Angeles can at least put on a show with young stars. 

Note that Utah has dropped a bunch with the loss of Rudy Gobert to injury. They basically went from the “top 20” to being the Knicks. Utah was plus 3.5 Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (virtual market equality) in a game they would lose by five. 

We won’t be able to dive too deep into the NBA until football slows down. The Boston Celtics have been an amazing story. The market expected them to struggle after Gordon Hayward suffered that horrific leg injury. Instead, Boston’s won a lucky 13 in a row straight up to move to 13-2 atop the NBA standings. They’re 10-2-1 ATS during that 13-game winning streak. The Celtics are still medium-sized home dogs to Golden State Thursday. But this recent run is a real tribute to:

  • Great coaching
  • Smart roster-building
  • Defensive effort
  • Having clear strategies late in close games
  • Great coaching

Did we mention Brad Stevens? He was already recognized as a young genius BEFORE this. 

NHL: Great analytics sites
We hope you caught “A Numbers Game” with Gill Alexander Wednesday. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to check in at the 35-minute mark of the replay video to hear about NHL analytics from Andy MacNeil.

Gill and Andy talked about several important stat categories. We wanted to make sure you got a link to a site that has those stats updated on a daily basis. Andy recommended to VSiN City www.corsica.hockey/. There’s a TON of stats there. If you’re interested in overall “team” performance top to bottom, you can click on this link to that site for a league-wide view. 

You can follow Andy on twitter @pucktails. His personal website can be seen here. We’ll also dig into the NHL more closely here in the newsletter once the Fall sports fade and Winter makes its stand. 

Back with you Friday to recap Titans/Steelers, and to post an in-depth stat preview of Saturday’s  Michigan/Wisconsin college football clash. This week’s slate isn’t offering anywhere near the marquee value of last week. But, chaos could still be in the air.  

If you haven’t had a chance to sign up for the FREE weekday subscription to VSiN City, please click here to do so. You also get links to handy sports betting sheets from the South Point that are about to become extremely helpful for college basketball. 

Click here to subscribe to our popular Point Spread Weekly magazine. This lengthy football betting resource costs just $49.99 for the rest of the season, and is loaded with stats and trends.

Click here to follow us on twitter for programming snippets and news bulletins. Click here to download our new app. If you have any comments or questions about anything in the VSiN universe, drop us a note or leave us a comment on the Facebook widget below. 

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