COVID Has Caused Revision To Steelers’ Point Spread As Favorite Over Cincy

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Uncertainty surrounding whether an NFL team’s most important player will take the field — due to possible COVID-19 infection — evidently impacts a point spread by not more than a couple of points.

All of Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks took Sunday’s Steelers-Bengals game off the board Tuesday after it was reported that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was among four Steelers whose status for the game was jeopardized.

The four had had close exposure to tight end Vance McDonald, who is COVID-19 positive, though they had not tested positive themselves. The players must avoid contact with teammates for five days and test negative twice before they would be allowed to play Sunday. McDonald will miss the game, but he has not been important to the offense this year.

The undefeated Steelers opened Monday as favorites by at least 8 points over the Bengals, whom they have beaten 10 straight times. Wednesday morning, some of the Pennsylvania sites still resisted listing a line, but FanDuel posted the Steelers as 6.5-point favorites, as did the sites using Kambi odds, which include DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, and Parx.

The Steelers’ COVID-related situation brings particular intrigue to a football weekend in which the division-leading Eagles are favored by about a field goal while visiting the New York Giants, and winless Penn State is favored the same amount on the road at Nebraska.

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Big Ben seems more valuable than ever

The Steelers found out how much they depend on Roethlisberger when he went down with an injury in the second game last year, hobbling the team in its stumble to an 8-8 record despite a stellar defense.

Now Pittsburgh is 8-0 for the first time in franchise history after two straight games in which Roethlisberger led second-half comebacks, including in a surprisingly difficult 24-19 win in Dallas on Sunday. Roethlisberger injured his knees in the game, so coach Mike Tomlin said a few days of COVID protocol-required rest won’t be the worst thing for him.

If he can’t play Sunday, the Steelers would have to turn to Mason Rudolph, who had a lot of trouble replacing the future Hall of Famer last year.

And while he doesn’t get the same attention as Roethlisberger or stars of Pittsburgh’s defense, veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams is on the same COVID watch from exposure to McDonald and would be a costly loss. He is a tough, blue-collar anchor for a team already missing its other inside linebacker, Devin Bush, due to season-ending injury.

With or without Williams, the Steelers’ sack-happy D will try to make life difficult for talented young Bengals QB Joe Burrow, a candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year. The Bengals (2-5-1) are coming off a bye week, and Burrow has them playing competitively even when they’re not winning.

FanDuel has the Steelers at -290 on the moneyline, with a points total over/under of 45.5. Other sites have no moneyline or o/u yet listed.

FanDuel also has the Steelers at +600 to win the Super Bowl, still behind only the Kansas City Chiefs at +350. It has Pittsburgh +1000 to go undefeated, with Roethlisberger +270 to be named Comeback Player of the Year (behind Alex Smith at -250) and linebacker T.J. Watt +400 to be Defensive Player of the Year (behind Aaron Donald at +200).

Eagles go for sweep of Giants

It was only two games ago that the Eagles barely survived a visit from the Giants, but that 22-21 win helped turn around a season that now has a 3-4-1 team somehow sitting comfortably ahead in the NFC East race.

The Eagles are coming off a bye while the Giants (2-7) defeated Washington, 23-20, on Sunday.

Injury-plagued Philadelphia should be at its healthiest since the first game of the year, expecting to get back running back Miles Sanders and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

The sportsbooks are presumably taking that into account in making the Eagles a 3.5-point favorite across the board while visiting MetLife Stadium. Most of the sites offer a moneyline return for an Eagles backer of -175, while the over/under is set at 44.5 everywhere except Caesars, which has 44.

Both teams have seemed to improve as the season has progressed, but there’s also potential for the game to look ugly considering the number of turnovers committed by Carson Wentz (12 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles) and Giants QB Daniel Jones (9 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles).

The Giants are also without their injured star running back, Saquon Barkley.

What’s happened to PSU, Nebraska?

It’s not often that an 0-3 team is favored in visiting Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., nor that two programs with such rich histories as Penn State and Nebraska would be a combined 0-5 when meeting.

But that’s where the Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers find themselves for a noon Saturday matchup. Penn State is favored by 3.5 points on most betting sites, while FOX Bet and BetAmerica make them 3-point favorites. BetAmerica also has the best moneyline option for a Penn State bettor at -150.

The over/under ranges from a low of 55.5 with the Kambi-backed sites to as much as 56.5 from FanDuel, FOX Bet, and BetAmerica.

Any hopes that the Nittany Lions would right their season after an expected loss to powerful Ohio State blew up last week with a devastating 35-19 loss at home to Maryland, which was an underdog of 24 points or more.

Nebraska, meanwhile, has had its own troubles, and is now 0-2 after losing last week to Northwestern, 21-13.

Pitt, Temple going in opposite directions

In other Pennsylvania college games, Pitt (4-4) is favored, but the same cannot be said of Temple (1-4) by a long, long shot.

The Panthers are 6.5-point favorites across the board at Georgia Tech after dispatching Florida State last week, 41-17, to snap a four-game losing streak. Georgia Tech is coming off a bye week.

The best moneyline option on Pitt is the -230 offered by BetAmerica. The over/under is set at 50.5 everywhere but Caesars, which posts 51.

After a 47-23 shellacking by SMU, Temple carries the distinction vs. UCF (4-2) of being not just a huge underdog but a participant in a game expected to be the highest-scoring on Saturday.

The sportsbooks are spotting the Owls anywhere from 23.5 points (Kambi sites, BetAmerica) to 24.5 (FanDuel). Anyone who really thinks it’s possible Temple could pull off an upset akin to Maryland’s over Penn State should visit the Caesars site, which has the Owls at +1300 on the moneyline.

And considering Temple has given up 126 points in its last three games and UCF has scored 144 in that span, most sites have set the o/u at a whopping 75.5.

If you think that’s actually too modest a number for the over, then you’re best off at FOX Bet, which posts 75.

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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