Two teams with plausible arguments that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders meet tonight at Heinz Field when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers come calling on the heels of three consecutive wins over the Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Steelers, who got off to a rocky start, have strung together four straight victories gained over the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. In other words, both these teams have beaten the Ravens over the past couple Sundays and both teams are in the thick of their division races.
As for that rocky start to the Steelers season, a lot has changed since they opened with a tie against the Cleveland Browns and a home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. First, Pittsburgh has already avenged their loss to the Browns with a dominating victory two weeks ago against their AFC North Division rivals, 33-18. Early in the season, the Steelers were still on watch for the possible return of runningback Le'Veon Bell. Now, they know he is not joining the team anytime soon and relying on his former backup, James Connor, who has more than simply filled in for Bell but been a leader in the Steelers attack. And that no wins entering the third week of play doesn’t look quite look so bad now that we know just how well Kansas City has played all season.
As for the Panthers, they have played most of this year under the radar. Two losses in their first five games, first to the Atlanta Falcons in second week action and in a sixth week loss to the Redskins in Washington, reduced their value in the eyes of many.
But, this is a Panthers team that won the NFC just a few years ago and have a better offense today with the addition of Christian McCaffery to a backfield led by multidimensional Cam Newton. It took a little while for the public to gravitate to the Panthers, but they have now. In fact, Carolina is getting most of the action tonight and the books have dropped the opening line of Pittsburgh by five points down to the Steelers favored by 3½ points. It may go as low as a field goal before kickoff.
Why is this?
Perhaps it is because many consider the Steelers vulnerable tonight following an important win last week over division rival Baltimore, which elevated the Steelers to sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
Does the betting world think the Steelers are going to come out flat tonight following that important division win on the road?
They might … I don’t.
Perhaps the public is banking on the Panthers in a more desperate situation given they are in the same division with the New Orleans Saints, a team that has won seven games in a row and lead the Panthers by a game in the NFC South Division. I can respect that, there is some evidence to support the case that when two quality teams meet the team that needs it more is often the right side of the wager.
But, betting against the Steelers at home on a short work week is high risk ball at the best. Pittsburgh has already faced the abyss of falling behind in their division and needing a run to get back on top. Now, I suspect, they are more focussed on the challenge of earning one of two opening postseason week byes, slots currently held by the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
In my experience, I believe the best time to bet on a quality team is when the public is on the other side, and when we can have that team at home with a reduced point spread. We can have all that tonight with Pittsburgh.
The Panthers are better than the public thought they were for the first nine weeks of the season … but not as good as they think they are as we open the tenth week of NFL action.
Qoxhi Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers (-3½) over the Carolina Panthers