The Pittsburgh Steelers get the best opponent (meaning a really bad opponent) they could have hoped for to end a potential free fall heading into the playoffs, while a second straight upset by the Philadelphia Eagles could suddenly revive their playoff hopes.
In a long NFL weekend of action, with Saturday games being played by the Bills-Broncos and Panthers-Packers, the Eagles are again underdogs by about a touchdown in a late Sunday afternoon game visiting the Arizona Cardinals.
But if the Eagles could beat the New Orleans Saints in Jalen Hurts’ first start behind center Sunday, why not the Cardinals seven days later?
On Monday night, the Steelers are a nearly two-TD road favorite against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have lost five straight games and are down to either their second- or third-string quarterback. Oh, and by the way, Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 36-10 earlier this year before starter Joe Burrow was lost for the season.
Pennsylvania’s 10 online sportsbooks had wide-ranging wagers available for both games involving the state’s teams Friday morning. Before the day was out, meanwhile, BetMGM was prepared to become the 11th option upon getting the nod from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board after its one-day test launch Thursday.
Counting on Hurts for a Philly miracle
After their 24-21 surprise against the Saints, the Eagles are 4-8-1 and 1½ games behind the Washington Football Team in the NFC East. They are given just a 6/1 chance by various sportsbooks of winning a weak division that was once theirs for the taking.
But Philadelphia hosts Washington in the final week of the regular season, so if the team can get on a roll, it’s not too late for a playoff game — incomprehensible as it might sound — to be played at Lincoln Financial Field in January.
The Eagles certainly got a spark from Hurts replacing Carson Wentz at quarterback, even if the fire came more on the ground than in the air. The Eagles rushed for their most yards in a game in six years, with Hurts and Miles Sanders each running for more than 100.
Hurts was adequate, meanwhile, in the passing department: 17/30 for 167 yards and a TD, while looking plenty poised.
Even so, the Pennsylvania sportsbooks favor the Cardinals by either 6.5 (FanDuel, FOX Bet, Caesars, BetAmerica) or 6 (the six sites using Kambi odds: DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, Parx).
Among the factors in the Cardinals’ favor as they chase an NFC wild card slot: home field advantage, their 7-6 record, an impressive 26-7 defeat of the New York Giants Sunday, and a QB in Kyler Murray with a similar run-pass skill set to Hurts but more tested NFL experience behind him along with a superstar receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.
It could make for a fun game to watch, as Eagles contests go, and it has one of the higher points total over/unders of the weekend: 49.5 by FanDuel, FOX Bet, and Caesars; 49 by the Kambi-backed sites; and 48.5 by BetAmerica (but with -121 juice on the over).
The best moneyline payout for an Eagles backer is the +240 posted by Caesars.
Steelers look for a pre-holiday feast
Once 11-0 and attracting talk of the first undefeated regular NFL season since 2007, in the blink of an eye the Steelers have become 11-2 and looked pretty bad in doing so.
Sunday night’s 26-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills followed an upset by Washington, and the black-and-gold offense has looked anemic at the same time a No. 1 defense in many statistical categories has been shredded by injuries.
And yet, the Steelers have become bigger betting favorites in the course of the week. FanDuel, Caesars, and BetAmerica posted a 13-point spread Friday, while the other sites make it 12.5.
The best moneyline return for a Steelers bettor is the -650 from FOX Bet. (Caesars is the worst, at -900.)
The Steelers have clinched a playoff spot despite the two losses, and a win Monday would secure the AFC North title. To help that cause, the Steelers are expected to have a key part of their secondary back in Joe Haden, and they may get warrior Vince Williams back at linebacker.
The defense shouldn’t need much help anyway against a Cincinnati team that will rely at QB on either Brandon Allen — if he’s recovered from an injury sustained in a 30-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys — or Ryan Finley. The Bengals offense is averaging a meager 10 points per game since Burrow went down.
The Steelers, of course, have their own well-documented offensive problems, averaging just 17 PPG in their last three after averaging 29.8 in their first 10. Complicating matters is the questionable status for the game of starting halfback James Conner, due to injury Sunday night.
Add it all up, and it might not be the prettiest affair for a national ESPN audience to lay eyes on. The sportsbooks anticipate that possibility, with the game’s over/under set across the board at 40.5 except for BetAmerica, which puts it even lower at 40.
It’s the lowest o/u of any of the 15 games on tap this weekend. We always advise betting at your own peril, considering the house advantage, and for this game we might have to say the same about watching it.