As we roll into Thanksgiving week, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers fans alike have something to be thankful for: Despite each team’s mediocrity through 11 games, they’re somehow both quite alive in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2, started the season 1-4, and appear not to have found any answers in quarterback Mason Rudolph, but they’ve worked their way to 6-5 and, if the season ended today, would own the second AFC Wild Card spot via tiebreaker rules.
The Eagles are in the midst of their third two-game losing streak of the season, have been plagued by injuries, and have an ugly 5-6 record, but they’re in the worst division in the league by cumulative record (15-29) and sit just one game out the NFC East lead with the easiest remaining schedule in the entire NFL.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s calculations, the 5-6 Eagles have a 37% shot at making the postseason, while the 6-5 Steelers aren’t far behind at 31%.
It’s been a strange, unpredictable season so far for both teams and their fan bases. But in this first full NFL year of legal online sports betting in Pennsylvania, those who can predict the next twist or turn have an opportunity to profit.
Hold onto your helmets
For the Steelers, a lot hinges on this Sunday’s grudge match against the Cleveland Browns, a rematch of the game just two weeks ago that ended with the NFL’s most memorable use of a helmet since the David Tyree catch. Pittsburgh is one game ahead of Cleveland in the standings, and a victory would more or less eliminate the Browns while solidifying the Steelers’ playoff positioning.
All of the Pennsylvania sportsbooks — FanDuel, FOX Bet, and DraftKings and the other four sites that get their odds from Kambi — list the Steelers as a one-point underdog to the visiting Browns at Heinz Field. The game is essentially a coin flip. The odds could shift a bit, however, if JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Conner is cleared to play, or if Devlin Hodges is named the starter over struggling Rudolph.
(Speaking of Rudolph, FanDuel has wisely removed him from its MVP betting options, though Carson Wentz remains an unthinkable waste of money at +15000. More on the Eagles’ signal caller in a bit.)
With the Baltimore Ravens playing the Rams tonight, the Steelers’ AFC North odds are due to change by tomorrow morning, but as of Monday, they’re +1400 at FOX Bet, +2000 at DraftKings, and +2700 at FanDuel. Even the highest of those numbers seems a reach given how well Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are playing and the fact that they’re currently leading the black and gold by 2½ games.
After the Browns rematch, the Steelers’ remaining schedule is at Arizona, home vs. Buffalo, at the Jets, and at the Ravens. They’ll only be a big underdog in one of those games. A 10-6 record probably gets them into the playoffs in the AFC. Even a 9-7 finish might do the trick.
A wing and a prayer
It’s hard to dispute that Wentz and the Eagles have underachieved this season, particularly by coughing away winnable games early against Atlanta and Detroit. And while it’s easy to point to all of Wentz’s weapons on injured reserve as a reason for his failures, there’s no denying that his passing accuracy has cost Philly several opportunities the last two weeks.
But it only takes four words to turn around an Eagles fan’s mood: Dolphins. Giants. Redskins. Giants.
Those are four of the Eagles’ five remaining games — a quartet against 2-9 squads. The other game is a home contest in Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys. So the Eagles are pretty much in control of their fate. They need to beat up on the dregs of the NFL and knock down the one team in the NFC East that they’re chasing.
Both FOX Bet and the Kambi sites list the Birds as 9-point favorites in Miami this Sunday, while FanDuel has them at just -7.5 (with a -120 vig). This is a game the Eagles should win — and must win if they want to play into January.
Philadelphia is a ’dog to win the NFC East, but not by much. FOX Bet has them at a mere +110, with Dallas listed at -150. DraftKings and the other Kambi sites have them at +115 and -143, respectively (better than FOX on both numbers). And FanDuel has the Eagles at +150 with the Cowboys locked in at -220.
For what it’s worth, a bettor could lock in a tiny profit taking the Cowboys on DraftKings and the Eagles on FanDuel (assuming you’re not worried about Washington or New York stealing the division).
Will they make the playoffs?
As of Monday morning, none of the PA sites had “will they/won’t they make the playoffs” odds listed for either the Eagles or the Steelers. (This often happens, that the old odds come down as the games start on Sunday and the new odds take a day or two to go up.)
But PointsBet, which operates in New Jersey and other states, has odds posted, which might give us a general sense of what to expect in Pennsylvania.
According to PointsBet, the Eagles are +200 to make the playoffs and -250 to miss. That +200 is actually a bargain if you trust FiveThirtyEight’s math and if you compare it to a PA-best +150 to win the NFC East.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are +225 to make the postseason and -286 not to. One way or the other, those numbers figure to look very different a week from now.
Photo by David Kohl / USA Today Sports