There are far more interesting things going on in Monday’s Steelers vs. Washington football meeting than might normally be expected between an 11-0 and 4-7 team.
For one, the undefeated Steelers are playing on just five days’ rest and missing several key players in striving to achieve the NFL’s first undefeated regular season since 2007 — not to mention a key playoff bye and potential home field advantage in the postseason over the Kansas City Chiefs.
For another, Washington remains in the thick of the NFC East divisional hunt despite its record, just a half-game behind the New York Giants and well-rested since a Thanksgiving Day thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys.
Throw in that the two candidates for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith, will be behind center in a rare 5 p.m. weekday start. The game was moved back a day due to COVID-related schedule reshuffling that postponed last week’s Steelers-Ravens game from Thanksgiving.
Now add this, betting-wise: There is plenty of public sentiment that Washington will give Pittsburgh a much stiffer challenge than the two teams’ records suggest, as the line has shifted in favor of the visitors to chilly Heinz Field.
All of Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks posted the Steelers as a 6.5-point favorite Monday morning, when they had been favored by 8 to 8.5 points before the weekend.
Will Steelers’ varsity show up this time?
The Steelers looked lackluster, at best, in that 19-14 win over a decimated Ravens lineup last Wednesday. It prompted coach Mike Tomlin to talk afterward about his team’s “junior varsity” performance, with emphatic assessment of his team’s “sucking.” He might have been the unhappiest coach ever of an NFL team that won its 11th straight game. (The team is currently +400 at FanDuel and +340 at DraftKings to go 16-0.)
So while the Steelers are favored by about a touchdown, it might have been far more if not for the two teams’ most recent performances. Washington got its second straight win on Thanksgiving in a 41-16 pasting of Dallas.
The best moneyline option for a Steelers backer is the -275 offered by FOX Bet.
Both teams are stronger defensively than offensively — Pittsburgh is No. 1 in the league in multiple categories. That leads to a points total over/under of 44 at FOX Bet and DraftKings and 43.5 on the other sites, although that lower number carries increased vig at online sportsbooks other than Caesars.
Key absences could affect Pittsburgh
The Steelers will definitely be without starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Steve Nelson on defense due to injuries. They are also expected to miss kicker Chris Boswell and running back James Conner.
Roethlisberger at one point was also listed as questionable for the game with a banged-up knee. He did little practicing but is expected to play.
He and Smith share a reliance on high-precision, short passes and status as veteran warriors winning plaudits in 2020 after their careers were in doubt. Roethlisberger played in only two games in 2019 due to an elbow injury.
Smith’s story is still more miraculous, after his right leg was shattered in devastating fashion in November 2018. The mere fact that he even took the field again as a backup this year was deemed inspirational.
Now, due to subpar play and injury by the two QBs ahead of him in Washington, Smith has taken over the team and helped it win two of his three starts. His stats aren’t gaudy due to all the short passing — similar to the Steelers’ rejiggered offense under Roethlisberger — but not much will be needed from him if rookie running back Antonio Gibson has another game like he did vs. Dallas: 115 yards rushing and three TDs.
Betting boosts are available
Multiple Pennsylvania sportsbooks are taking advantage of the extra Monday football involving an in-state team to offer special promos. Some are tied to the regularly scheduled nighttime contest that follows between the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers.
Here are a few examples:
FanDuel: For a bet on the Steelers and Bills both to win, it advertises an “odds boost” to +180 (from +153). For the Steelers to win with JuJu Smith-Schuster scoring a TD, it has a boost to +300 (from +230).
FOX Bet: It also has a boost on the Steelers and Bills both to win, at an even better +200 — but with a $10 limit. It has a “super boost” for Roethlisberger to throw at least three TD passes, to +200 from +150. (He has done that in four of 11 games this year.)
DraftKings: If you think the Steelers defense/special teams will score the first touchdown of the game, as occurred in the Ravens contest, you can get it at an odds boost of +2650 (instead of +2100).