Steelers' debut provides chemistry lesson for bettors

August 8, 2019 10:34 PM

Are the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers a serious dark horse to win the AFC and Super Bowl now that “clubhouse chemistry” has been cleaned up? Or are they already outclassed by the upstart Cleveland Browns in the AFC North?

Friday’s nationally televised exhibition game between the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL Network, 7:30 p.m. ET) will give handicappers a chance to mull those questions. 

VSiN’s Michael Lombardi tabbed the re-focused Steelers as a smart futures bet on “A Numbers Game” with Gill Alexander earlier this week (“Lombardi Line” kicks off this weekend at vsin.com, 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday). But betting markets have been seeing aggressive Cleveland action all summer. 

Pondering the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry renewal is more interesting than Friday’s preseason game. Let’s check the latest prop prices from William Hill. 

Regular Season Win Totals

A bit of a surprise off the bat. Pittsburgh earns a slight nod here by a few cents. Both teams are projected to win nine regular season games. The Over for the Steelers is -130 (risk $130 to win $100, or anything in that ratio). For the Browns, it’s -125. 

Odds to win AFC North

It seems the summer Browns’ hype was more about futures prices than pure victories. William Hill’s AFC North odds are: Browns 6/5 (plus 120), Steelers 7/4 (plus 175), Ravens 17/5 (plus 340), Bengals 15/1 (plus 1500).

Easier to visualize the overall outlook with percentage equivalents (divide the number on the right of the fraction by the sum of the two numbers). Those are, Browns 45% (five divided by 11 is .4545), Steelers 36%, Ravens 23%, and Bengals 6%. Those total 110% because sports books build a universe larger than 100% to create a house edge. A surprising Cleveland edge considering the projected dead heat in wins. 

Odds to win AFC

Though New England and Kansas City (both 3/1, or plus 300) are clear of the field to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, the Browns (15/2, plus 750) and Steelers (10/1, plus 1000) are on the short list of serious contenders. 

Odds to win Super Bowl

Typically, you double the conference price to get Super Bowl odds (a general mathematical assumption far in advance that the big game will be a 50/50 toss-up). That’s the case here, with the Browns at 15/1 (plus 1500) and the Steelers at 20/1 (plus 2000).

Clearly a discrepancy between victories and postseason ceilings. Both are supposed to win nine games. Cleveland’s seen as more likely to go further despite less postseason experience at head coach and quarterback. 

Does that make sense? Not really. But, it’s a reflection of all the buzz about the Browns after last year’s resurgence to respectability. Many bettors believe their elevator is going up fast from 7-8-1. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is left with some tricky buttons to push. 

Pittsburgh and Cleveland don’t meet until the second half of the season. They’ll battle Thursday, Nov. 14 in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 1 in the Steel City. Circle those dates.

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