The National Football League is offering a Monday double-header today starting with a matinee meeting between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and playoff hopeful Washington Redskins. The early contest, scheduled to kickoff at 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time, will be followed by the regularly scheduled Monday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
Well, actually, nothing today is as scheduled. The second game today, between the defending National Football Conference Champions and AFC East Division leaders is being played on the date and time as originally scheduled, but not the location. There's also a game tomorrow, when the Baltimore Ravens hope to end a three game losing streak while hosting the Dallas Cowboys in a game set to begin at 5:05 p.m. Pacific Time
Because of a spike in California Covid-19 infections, and because the state looks to get a handle on the pandemic, Santa Clara County has banned all contact sports This has forced the 49ers to move their next two “home” games from Levi’s Stadium, located in Santa Clara, to Arizona. Tonight's game will be played at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.
Now, I’ve got a couple questions about these two games tonight and both are pinned to the same sort of line moves. The Steelers are undefeated and the Redskins have mostly struggled this year and come to Heinz Field with four wins and seven losses on the season. One might assume that the undefeated Steelers would be favored in this game … and they are … but surprisingly by a shrinking number.
The opening line on the Steelers home game against the Redskins had them favored by 10½ points, and 60% of the bettors were willing to lay that number to back them. But, somebody wasn’t backing the Steelers, because the line has dropped every day it has been posted, and currently the opening number has been sliced by four points, with the Steelers currently a 6½ point favorite at Heinz Field.
A move like this most often would indicate a key player is out with an injury, and while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t practiced all week and has a knee issue, history tells us he will be on the field today. The Steelers also have two other injuries of note, gone for the season is one of their most productive defenders, Bud Dupree, who has been credited with 19½ sacks the past two seasons.
Dupree has a torn ACL, and will miss not only the remainder of this season but is no more than questionable to be ready for opening day next season. The Steelers may also be without kicker Chris Boswell, who is battling a hip injury and was downgraded from questionable to doubtful yesterday.
Those are reasons to be concerned about the Steelers covering a double-digit point spread, but there is another reason the line may be moving. In their most recent games, the Redskins looked great on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys, winning 41-16, and the Steelers sluggish in their five point win over a player depleted Baltimore Ravens team last Wednesday.
What that leaves us with in the first game is a clear betting pattern that indicates the public is on one side and the wise guys on the opposite side. That is, the public backing the undefeated Steelers, and the wise guys taking the points with the Redskins.
What always has to be taken into consideration with a drastic line move is that the wise guys were buying the Redskins when they were getting more points than are offered on the spread today. The Redskins plus double-digits was very attractive, but now, getting less than a touchdown, is a lot more dicey proposition. In other words, the value on the Redskins may have already left the station.
A similar pattern is shown on the contest between the Bills and 49ers. The Bills opened as a 2½ point favorite for the game being played on a neutral site. When the line swung dramatically the 49ers way, to a pick ‘em or even San Francisco favored by a point, I thought perhaps the wagering public didn’t know that the game had been moved. Perhaps the line shifted because the bettors thought they were getting the 49ers as a home team underdog.
But, that idea doesn’t stand up to the facts.
From the start, the public didn’t leap at the 49ers plus the points, they took the Bills and were willing to lay the points. As the line shifted, the public kept backing the Bills, by more than 60%, and yet the line continued to drop on the Bills favorite role until they no longer were favored and the public rejoiced in now getting their team without having to lay points.
What we have here, is a couple games where the public and wise guys are in stark disagreement … and the books are betting on the wise guys.
I think we should too.
Qoxhi Picks: San Francisco 49ers (pick) over Buffalo Bills