Cover The Spread: Pittsburgh’s Ready To Fire On The NFL Steel City Showdown

Written By Grant Lucas on December 14, 2018
Heinz Field stadium sign

For the first time in history, Pittsburgh has skin in the game on NFL Sunday.

With Rivers Sportsbook opening Thursday at Rivers Casino, the Steel City will accept its first regulated wagers in time for Sunday’s Week 15 showdown between two AFC powers: the New England Patriots at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Conveniently, the PA sports betting operation sits a brisk walk up Casino Drive, located five lengths of a football field from Heinz Field. While Rivers still needs to complete the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board testing phase, which concludes Friday, the sportsbook joins Hollywood Sportsbook and sister property SugarHouse as the only facilities offering legalized betting.

Fittingly, the sportsbook opens to the public in time for a marquee matchup at Heinz Field. The Patriots-Steelers showdown features two perennial Super Bowl-contending franchises. Two of the top five favorites to win the AFC championship. Two of the top 10 favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy. Two teams that come off gut-wrenching and disappointing losses in Week 14.

So why not take a look at what markets might exist at Rivers, powered by Kambi Group, by taking a look at another Kambi client, the New Jersey-operating SugarHouse Sportsbook?

Patriots favored, the first bet takes them

The Patriots (9-4) have won two of their last three games and sit one win away from securing their 10th straight AFC East title. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (7-5-1) has lost three straight, yet still leads the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) in the AFC North with three games remaining.

Both New England and the Steelers come off head-scratching losses. New England lost on a miraculous 69-yard hook-and-lateral as time expired. Elsewhere, the Steelers missed a field goal after allowing a go-ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds to play. The loss was exceptionally painful for Pittsburgh in particular, considering it entered as high as 10.5-point favorites against the Oakland Raiders.

The Patriots, who have won their past four meetings against the Steelers, go into Sunday’s game as three-point favorites. New England sits at -143 on the moneyline, while Pittsburgh enters at +120 in a game featuring an over/under of 53.5 points.

Interestingly, upon opening, Rivers’ first accepted wager came from a local customer, who laid down $11,000 on the Patriots to cover.

However, a variety of different betting options pique interest.

Alternate lines galore

The main over/under suggests a moderately high-scoring game. After all, New England has scored less than 21 points in a game just three times this season; same for Pittsburgh.

That said, the most common total for both teams fell at 40 points or fewer (four games for the Pats, three for the Steelers). Such an alternate over/under at SugarHouse pays +430 for under 40. On the flip side, New England and Pittsburgh have combined for five games with totals eclipsing 67 points. At SugarHouse, hitting the over on that figure pays +380.

As for the spread, five of the past six Patriots games featured winning margins by 14 or more points. Conversely, the Steelers have lost the last three games by seven points or fewer. (A -6.5 spread for New England pays +140.)

Consider, though, that neither team has excelled against the spread, and both have been inconsistent on the over/under:

  • New England: 8-5 ATS, 5-8 over/under
  • Pittsburgh: 6-6-1 ATS, 7-6 over/under

Diving into the props

The first score and the first team to do it

The Patriots have irregularly opened the scoring this season, doing so in eight of 13 games this season. Pittsburgh, though, has been more consistent, though not the way it would prefer: 10 times opponents have scored first.

So, which side will kick off the scoring: New England (-137) or Pittsburgh (+102)?

Taking it further, what kind of score will it be?

  • Home TD: +215
  • Home FG: +450
  • Away TD: +163
  • Away FG: +375

Consider that less than half of the Patriots’ first scores, whenever they came, have been touchdowns (7). The Steelers, though, have hit paydirt with much more frequency: 11 of their 13 opening scorers were touchdowns.

How about one step further?

Will Pittsburgh score first and win (+270), or will it be New England (+150)? Only twice in five home games have the Steelers scored first. And only once, in Week 5, have they won. In seven road games, the Patriots have opened the scoring three times — two for wins.

Race to point totals

At five-point intervals, bettors can wager on which team will reach certain totals first. A few quick records on each team reaching said totals before opponents (with odds for each team to do so):

  • 10 points (NE -157, PIT +102): New England 9-4, Pittsburgh 8-5
  • 15 points (NE -162, PIT +112): New England 9-2, Pittsburgh 9-3
  • 20 points (NE -150, PIT +175): New England 10-1, Pittsburgh 10-1
  • 25 points (NE -112, PIT +175): New England 9-0, Pittsburgh 5-2
  • 30 points (NE +132, PIT +250): New England 6-0, Pittsburgh 4-2

Team to lead at half, end of regulation

First, understand this prop, which is something of a parlay: What combination of teams will lead at the half AND at the end of regulation?

  • New England at half, New England after fourth quarter: +120
  • New England at half, Pittsburgh after fourth quarter: +650
  • Pittsburgh at half, New England after fourth quarter: +650
  • Pittsburgh at half, Pittsburgh after fourth quarter: +215
  • Tied at half, New England after fourth quarter: +1,600
  • Tied at half, Pittsburgh after fourth quarter: +1,900

The Patriots have led at intermission nine times this season, winning all but one. Last week’s Miami Miracle remains the outlier. Only once has New England entered the half tied (an eventual win), and the Pats have lost all three games when trailing at the break.

Pittsburgh’s record when leading at the half: 5-2-1 (the two losses have come in each of the past two weeks). Only once has Pittsburgh trailed, and it rallied to win. Yet, four times the Steelers have been tied at the break, and they lost three times.

Home, away over/under totals

Not willing to rely on both teams to help reach the over/under total? Take a look at team-specific numbers.

The over/under for Pittsburgh sits at 24.5 points, for example. That after the Steelers have topped that total five times in six home games this season, averaging 34.5 points at Heinz Field.

On the other side, the Patriots stand at 27.5 points. An interesting figure, considering the Patriots have failed to reach 27 points five times in seven road games, scoring 23.3 points per game.

Somewhat related, a roulette-style prop exists for points. Will the game’s total be odd (-136) or even (+105)? It’s a coin flip. Four of the last five New England games featured even totals; seven of the last eight Pittsburgh totals were odd.

AB, JuJu show?

If Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger somehow even remotely stays in the running for MVP, he can thank two breakout wide receivers.

Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster have been outstanding for the Steelers, both with more than 1,000 yards and five touchdowns receiving. That makes Pittsburgh one of just two teams with such a tandem. Kansas City is the other.

Through SugarHouse, bettors can wager on which players will score a touchdown (first, last or at any time in the game) as well as if someone will finish with two or more scores.

The latter is intriguing. Brown (+700 to score first TD, +700 to score last, -155 to score at all) has logged a TD in all but three games this season. Smith-Schuster (+850 to score first, +850 to score last, +100 to score at all) has four TDs over the past five games.

While Brown has not had a two-TD game in seven games (and only two on the season), his breakout nature provides optimism for a +400 payout on a multi-score outing.

Similar confidence can be found in Smith-Schuster, at +600, after the wideout broke out for his first two-touchdown game last week.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.

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