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Steelers survive but don't cover vs. Bengals in brutal MNF

Jeff Fogle
VSiN City newsletter

December 4, 2017 11:53 PM

Steelers survive. Pittsburgh rallied with a big fourth quarter to beat Cincinnati 23-20, on a night where both teams suffered multiple injuries. Numbers, notes, plus our updated NFL “market” Power Ratings Tuesday in VSiN City. 

Monday Night Football: Pittsburgh wins 10th to stay tied with New England atop AFC 
What looked to be a very serious back injury to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier cast a pall over the evening. Heavy rain started falling in the second half, furthering the metaphor. Then injury after injury delayed play in a game that saw 20 penalties for 239 yards. 

Pittsburgh (-4.5) 23, Cincinnati 20
Yards-per-Play: Pittsburgh 5.9, Cincinnati 5.9
Total Yards: Pittsburgh 374, Cincinnati 353
Third Down Pct: Pittsburgh 33%, Cincinnati 50% 
Turnovers: Pittsburgh 1, Cincinnati 0
Rushing Yards: Pittsburgh 92, Cincinnati 130
Passing Stats: Pittsburgh 24-40-1-282, Cincinnati 21-36-0-223
TD Drive Lengths: Pittsburgh 78-80, Cincinnati 85-78

“Bad for football, and “disturbing” were the words of ESPN color announcer Jon Gruden during his post-game recap on “Sportscenter.” We focus on the numbers and market dynamics here in VSiN City. We’ll quickly agree with Gruden before getting to work. 

Cincinnati led 17-3 at halftime, and 20-10 entering the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh would dominate crunch time with this fourth quarter sequence:

Pittsburgh: 11 plays, 74 yards for a field goal
Cincinnati: three and out
Pittsburgh: 9 plays, 80 yards for a touchdown
Cincinnati: three and out
Pittsburgh: 8 plays, 39 yards for the game winning field goal as time expired

Cincinnati did enough for backers to cover the spread as home underdogs…but disappeared when the game was on the line in terms of straight up victory. Pittsburgh is now 10-2, with important home games against Baltimore and New England on tap. Cincinnati falls to 5-7, two games off the pace in the AFC Wildcard race 

AFC Wildcard Standings (top two will qualify)
Jacksonville 8-4 (8-2 in the AFC)
Baltimore 7-5 (5-3 in the AFC) 
LA Chargers 6-6 (4-5 in the AFC)
Buffalo 6-6 (4-4 in the AFC)
Oakland 6-6 (5-5 in the AFC)
NY Jets 5-7 (5-4 in the AFC)
Miami 5-7 (4-4 in the AFC)
Cincinnati 5-7 (5-6 in the AFC)

The Bengals take the worst of it in tie-breakers, and also have a road game at Minnesota in two weeks! Closing the season against the Ravens at least theoretically gives them hope for a miracle. Will probably take a few. 

Note that the Chargers own head-to-head wins over both Buffalo and Oakland, which is why they get a higher spot in the 6-6 listings with the worst conference mark. They still have a real shot to surpass Kansas City at the top of the AFC West…or to just stay in place while the Chiefs keep plummeting down the mountain past them. 

NFL: New Estimated Market Power Ratings
On Tuesdays we update our estimate of how “the market” is rating all 32 pro football teams. Here are the Monday evening lines we’ll be using to build the scale. Note that we have a couple more “no line” situations than normal pending the status of Matthew Stafford of Detroit, and Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo. 

New Orleans (pick-em/53.5) at Atlanta
Detroit at Tampa Bay (NL pending status of Stafford)
Chicago at Cincinnati (NL pending MNF)
Indianapolis at Buffalo (NL pending status of Taylor)
Seattle at Jacksonville (-3/39.5)
Oakland at Kansas City (-4/47.5)
Minnesota (-3/41) at Carolina
Green Bay (-3.5/40.5) at Cleveland
San Francisco at Houston (-2.5/42.5)
Washington at LA Chargers (-6/46)
NY Jets (-1/41) at Denver
Tennessee (-3/44) at Arizona
Philadelphia at the L.A. Rams (-2/50.5)
Dallas (-5/42) at NY Giants
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (NL pending MNF)
New England (-11/47) at Miami

If you’re new to VSiN City, we use those lines to build “couplets” that we place on a Power Ratings scale. We adjust the numbers you see above three points as a standard for home field advantage. New Orleans is pick-em at Atlanta on Sunday. With HFA being worth three, that means the Saints are currently seen as three points better on a neutral field. We put the Saints three lines above the Falcons. That’s a big adjustment from last week when Atlanta was initially priced as even with Minnesota, while the Saints were just one better than Carolina. 

88: New England
86: Philadelphia Minnesota
85: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, LA Rams
82: Atlanta
81: Jacksonville, Seattle
80: Baltimore, Tennessee, LA Chargers, Carolina
79: Detroit 
78: Kansas City, Dallas
77: Washington, Oakland
76: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay San Francisco (with Garappolo)  
75: NY Jets, Houston, Green Bay 
74: Arizona
73: Miami, Chicago
72: Indianapolis
71: Denver
70: NY Giants
69: Cleveland

Several notes…

  • Philadelphia dropped from its very high prior rating after showing they weren’t head and shoulders above the other NFC contenders at Seattle. The line of Rams -2 at home against the Eagles this week suggests that Philly needs to be one higher than LAR on our scale. We went with 86 and 85, which feels too high for the Rams. Using 85 and 84 feels too low for the Eagles based on their prior two months. Could be that the Eagles are like Ohio State in that they run up the score on bad teams, but are more mortal when the opponent doesn’t blink. Time will tell. 
  • Minnesota has to rise from last week with that surprisingly high line of -3 at Carolina. That’s out of character with last week’s ratings…but in character with what happened on the field this past Sunday. Minnesota showed it just might be championship material in Atlanta, while Carolina wasn’t competitive at New Orleans. We went with 86 and 80. Feels like the market might be stretching the rubber band a bit much with that one. 
  • We’re now showing some separation with “the big six” of New England and Pittsburgh in the AFC; Minnesota, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and the LA Rams in the NFC about a field goal (or more) clear of the other playoff contenders. If the market is going to make Minnesota -3 at Carolina, New Orleans pick-em at Atlanta, and the Rams now closer to the Philadelphia team that was laying more than a field goal at Seattle Sunday night…well, that’s meaningful separation! Again, these are “market” Power Ratings. We’re trying to decipher how “the market” sees the league.
  • San Francisco continues to rise with Jimmy Garappolo at QB. His stats were even better than the final score suggested in the Niners’ upset win at Chicago. SF is now seen as slightly better than Houston given a line below a field goal down in Texas. The initial “guess” from the market was that SF would be at least 3-4 points better with Garappolo than with C.J. Beathard. Now that perception is a touchdown, which might still be too low given a 26-37-1-278 passing line, a 56% conversion rate on third downs, and four long scoring drives (that will turn from field goals to touchdowns with more familiarity with his teammates). 
  • The market has decided that Dallas isn’t no-showing games any more. That creates the anomaly of both Dallas and the NY Giants recently being priced as 4 points worse than Washington on a neutral field (NYG plus 7 in Washington on Thanksgiving night, Dallas plus 1 at home last Thursday)…but now Dallas being priced as EIGHT points better than the Giants (-5 in New Jersey). 
  • Denver is finally being priced like the expansion-caliber doormat they’ve apparently become. Who would have imagined in August that the Jets would be a road favorite a mile high? Might feel like an overreaction to you. It’s much harder to make a tangible case that it’s an overreaction. Denver’s been that bad for two months. 

We’ll update these later in the week if developments warrant. 

College Football Market Watch: Early Final Four Betting
Last week’s “Market Watch” for the conference championship games painted a helpful picture for what would eventually transpire over the weekend. We’ll use the same principals through the month as we discuss bowl games and the Final Four. 

Let’s start that today with a quick look at early Final Four betting…

Rose Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Georgia 
Opener: Oklahoma by 3, total of 60
Tuesday morning: Oklahoma by 1, total of 60

The first numbers up were closer to prior market pricing…with Oklahoma seen as a true championship threat and Georgia viewed as a team that was near pick-em with Auburn. Sharp money hit Georgia right away. When later stores opened, the line was centered more around Oklahoma -2. Georgia money continued rolling in enough for some shops to test them as a short favorite. Oklahoma money jumped at that. Right now, the Sooners are -1

Both Final Four matchups will be very heavily bet. In this case, the Georgia contingent can point to a superior defense, and the potential to control the game at the point of attack. Oklahoma backers will be hoping Baker Mayfield can get an early lead, forcing Georgia out of its comfort zone (which keyed the Bulldogs’ blowout loss at Auburn). 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson
Opener: Alabama by 1, total of 47
Tuesday morning: Alabama by 1.5, total of 47

Alabama is still Power Rated as the best team in the country by the most respected market influences, even if they barely snuck in as the #4 seed. We’re currently settled at ‘Bama -1.5. But, Clemson certainly has a constituency that believes they should be the favorite based on a much tougher regular season schedule. 

(Quick digression on the “Alabama played Mercer, while Ohio State played Oklahoma” line of thinking. Both teams had scheduled powers in the first month. Alabama played then #3 Florida State in its opener. Ohio State played then #5 Oklahoma soon after. Both teams had manageable soft non-conference opponents otherwise. And while it’s true that the weakest “cupcake” on either schedule was Mercer (#149 in Sagarin). Three of the four weakest cupcakes were on Ohio State’s schedule (#126 Illinois, #118 UNLV, and #99 Rutgers). Both lost games to opponents Power-Rated as championship contenders. Alabama lost by 12 at Auburn, losing yard-per-play 5.2 to 5.1. Ohio State lost by 15 at HOME to OU, losing yards-per-play 6.8 to 5.1.)

For now, it’s expected that the winner of the Sugar Bowl will be a small favorite over the winner of the Rose Bowl…at least based on recent pricing in big games. We’ll put together a broad look at the “market” Power Ratings of all the bowl teams when we get closer to first kickoff. For now, here’s a quick peek at the marquee matchups late in the schedule. 

Estimated “market” Power Ratings for the highest profile bowls
Sugar: Alabama -1 vs. Clemson (Alabama 90, Clemson 89)
Rose: Oklahoma -1 vs. Georgia (Oklahoma 88, Georgia 87)
Cotton: Ohio State -6.5 vs. USC (Ohio State 89, USC 83)
Fiesta: Penn State -3 vs. Washington (Penn State 87, Washington 84)
Orange: Wisconsin -6.5 vs. Miami (Wisconsin 84, Miami 78)
Peach: Auburn -9.5 vs. Central Florida (Auburn 86, UCF 76)
Citrus: LSU -2.5 vs. Notre Dame (LSU 80, Notre Dame 78)

Georgia leapt back up near the top after spending some time last week as a two-point underdog to Auburn. Central Florida showed up where we thought it would on the scale in last week’s discussion. Mid 70’s. We had to flip LSU and Notre Dame from our prior estimates. The Irish closed the season on a dramatic downturn, while LSU gained steam all season after that embarrassing early loss to Troy. 

Monday College Basketball: Ohio State, Wisconsin score Big Ten victories, while #5 Florida is shocked by FSU 
Last week we spent some time with the Big Ten-ACC challenge in college basketball. Monday night, those conferences were in the news again. The Big Ten has already started league action. Florida State of the ACC stunned #5 Florida in Gainesville with a 17-point win and a 26-point cover.

Quickly through the key numbers…

Ohio State (-2) 71, Michigan 62
2-Point Pct: Michigan 45%, Ohio State 55%
Three Pointers: Michigan 8/28, Ohio State 5/14
Free Throws: Michigan 10/14, Ohio State 22/29
Rebounds: Michigan 32, Ohio State 35
Turnovers: Michigan 8, Ohio State 10

Michigan has a tendency to play soft inside, even in the best of times. The Wolverines concede some easy buckets to avoid foul trouble…then try to make that up with treys. Here, they conceded way too many easy buckets, put OSU on the free throw line a lot anyway, and didn’t shoot well from long range! Decisive win for the Buckeyes. 

Wisconsin (plus 5.5) 64, Penn State 63
2-Point Pct: Wisconsin 44%, Penn State 43%
Three Pointers: Wisconsin 5/11, Penn State 2/14
Free Throws: Wisconsin 13/19, Penn State 21/25
Rebounds: Wisconsin 36, Penn State 34
Turnovers: Wisconsin 10, Penn State 11

Wisconsin looked so bad in their last outing against Ohio State that they were Power Rated as the inferior team against the Nittany Lions. Grinder upset, with a plus 9 differential in three-point scoring barely trumping the -8 differential in made free throws. The team did regain its composure, which is going to matter in this competitive league.

Because the Big 10 has begun conference action, it’s easier to build estimated “market” Power Ratings from all the head-to-head lines. Here’s an early season effort. We’re going to leave out Wisconsin for the moment. 

Big Ten Basketball: Michigan State 86, Minnesota 83, Purdue 82, Penn State 78, Michigan 78, Ohio State 77, Northwestern 76, Maryland 76, Iowa 74, Indiana 74, Illinois 72, Rutgers 72, Nebraska 70.

Wisconsin was -7.5 at home against Ohio State (meaning low 80’s on this scale after you adjust three points for home court advantage), but plus 5.5 at Penn State…which would mean mid 70’s. Let’s wait to see where the Badgers come up next time before re-inserting them. Tonight’s guess from the market overshot their fall. 

Florida State (plus 9) 83, #5 Florida 66
2-Point Pct: Florida State 43%, Florida 45%
Three Pointers: Florida State 7/23, Florida 6/25
Free Throws: Florida State 20/24, Florida 18/25
Rebounds: Florida State 51, Florida 34
Turnovers: Florida State 12, Florida 17

It doesn’t look like it should be a blowout until you get to rebounds and turnovers. Florida State shot slightly worse on two-pointers, but won attempts 49 to 33. That’s where the extra baskets came from. Florida has stretches where they look unbeatable…like in most of the Duke game in Portland last week. But, they have also stretches where they look awful…like when it MATTERED while blowing a big lead against Duke, and then tonight. The Gators have been outscored 113-76 in their last 50 minutes of basketball, after leading Duke 74-57 with 10 minutes to go.

Florida State nets another big result for the ACC…who continues to be underrated by the market in showcase action. 

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