Between the hometown loyalties of Pittsburghers and the faithful passions of Philadelphians, Pennsylvania is blessed with one of the better cross-state rivalries in the nation. You want cheesesteaks or prefer sandwiches loaded with fries? Sheetz or Wawa? You got William Penn or William Pitt as your favorite colonial overlord?
You had better believe any longtime Pennsylvanian from east or west is prepared to fight about any of it, or especially, about their sports teams. Penn Bets is lucky enough to have two staff writers and betting analysts, Gary Rotstein in Pittsburgh and Eric Raskin near Philadelphia, who are diehard supporters of their local teams and prepared to smack one another around (mostly in a figurative rather than literal sense) over it.
With this Sunday marking the occasion of the quadrennial (or sometimes more often) Steelers vs. Eagles matchup, the two staffers exchanged words over the teams, cities, and betting options this week, which we share here:
Rotstein: Oh, great, one of us is backing an undefeated team and the other would like to put his squad out at the curb for Thursday morning trash pickup. One of us has a team in the World Series and the other has a team that might — emphasize the word might — be a contender in next year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, if we can qualify and make it past the regionals.
Eric, how am I supposed to throw any shade your way — which, believe me, I really, really want to do — when things are so lopsided in this fashion? How did we ever get to this stage, where my beloved Steelers of legends past like Mel Blount and Rod Woodson are reduced to filling the secondary with guys named Levi and Cameron who handle potential interceptions like guys trying to grasp trout from the Youghiogheny River? (Are there trout in the Schuylkill River? I tend to think not, unless swimming around in some mobster’s dunked car or something.)
Anywho, my hats off to you and your incredible autumn 2022 sports teams. Be honest, though, did you or anyone else east of Pennsylvania Dutch country actually see this coming? And which is more surprising, the Eagles being undefeated as of Halloween Eve or the Phils being in the World Series? As I write this Monday afternoon, by the way, I see that the Steelers are 11-point underdogs at DraftKings, BetRivers, and other online betting sites. I’m mulling betting that, but figure maybe I’ll wait and see if the line shifts to like 20 or something (which maybe it should).
Let’s not forget this game is in Philadelphia, where the #Eagles crowd will surely be fired up trying to win the battle of Pennsylvania.
The vibes are high in Philadelphia sports at the moment as the #Phillies success will lead to an even crazier crowd. https://t.co/wv5BzEF1yu
— Eagles Nation (6-0) (@PHLEaglesNation) October 26, 2022
Raskin: Addressing the most important question first: I have no idea what swims in the Schuylkill River. My familiarity is with the Schuylkill Expressway, the highway that connected my suburban childhood home with the Spectrum and the Vet and that was always a traffic nightmare that forced us to listen to “Traffic on the Twos” on KYW NewsRadio before venturing into town for a game.
Yes, it’s a phabulous time to be a Philly sports fan. The Phillies are on a magical run that is nonsensical (this is a team that was under .500 over the course of the season against teams not called the Washington Nationals) and yet believable because: (a) the MLB postseason is a crapshoot, (b) the Phils got a favorable draw, and (c) they’re built for potential short-term success, with two aces and a bunch of big bats. Still, I’d say them reaching the World Series is the bigger surprise than the Iggles being undefeated in late October.
A 6-0 start was entirely within the range of possibilities for the Eagles because their schedule was (and will continue to be) among the softest in the NFL. Everyone knew that Howie Roseman had assembled an outstanding roster. It simply came down to Jalen Hurts. If he could elevate in his third year and play like a top-10-ish quarterback, there was no reason they couldn’t win at least a dozen games. (And that number should now be adjusted to about 14 or 15, if they stay healthy.)
But this is an NFL season in which every week provides at least two or three preposterous outcomes, including your Steelers shocking the Buccaneers a couple of weeks ago. I see they’re as high as +410 on the moneyline at FanDuel. I know you have little faith in this squad, especially with a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett taking his lumps, but do you see value there — just on the principle of “Anything can happen in this league, so why not take a shot and try to win back more than four times your money?” In a way, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for the Eagles to lose their zero in a game in which they’re double-digit favorites at home?
Soo many upsets in the @NFL today! 🏈 pic.twitter.com/QBA5yUBYj4
— ☆ 𝗔𝗦𝗛𝗟𝗘𝗬 𝗣𝗨𝗥𝗗𝗬 ☆ (@AshleyPurdy) October 16, 2022
Rotstein: Not to do some Hollywood-style Nic Cage/John Travolta transference of our two roles here, but hold on a sec about that soft Eagles schedule. I see the NFC (Don’t Call Me L)East is now a collective 20-7 on the season, three games better than any other division. Something crazy is going on with the Eagles’ closest rivals this year, even if the oddsmakers aren’t buying the rest and make your guys a whopping -400 favorite at Kambi-odds sites like Barstool and betPARX to win the East.
But I see your point about the zany unpredictability of this year’s NFL. No one in Pittsburgh saw that win over the Bucs coming. But the defense still won’t have T.J. Watt back on Sunday, and it almost seems like that’s comparable to the Sixers playing without Joel Embiid. Even if I could get back four times my stake, I have trouble taking any such risk against Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, and Miles Sanders (who played his high school ball less than four miles from my house).
In fact, if Hurts throws for 300 yards and three TDs and runs for two more — all perfectly credible, where I sit — it’s fine by me. That’s because this Pittsburgher invested in him for MVP at 18/1 at FOX Bet very early in the season, and then more at +800 a week later, and then more at +700 a week later, and then more at +600 a week later. (He’s now +450, behind only favorite Josh Allen.)
So is the previously questionable Jalen Hurts the real deal now, and if so, what changed for him? More importantly, can he keep the Eagles undefeated for just another two months, in which case I might cash all those tickets no matter what Josh Allen does?
Jalen Hurts for MVP 🐐 pic.twitter.com/C5wGz4QWs2
— Eagles🦅 Diehards (@DieHardsEagles) October 20, 2022
Raskin: That is just about what you’re going to need for Hurts to win MVP. The Eagles presumably need to finish with at least two more Ws than the Bills for Hurts to get it over the statistically (and eye-test) superior Allen, which I would guess means the Birds have to go at least 16-1 — but that’s entirely possible because, current NFC East trends be damned, the Giants are bound to start regressing to the mean soon. Assuming no catastrophic injuries, I see exactly one game on the Eagles schedule in which they may be an underdog, and that’s at Dallas on Christmas Eve.
In short: The present odds for Hurts are accurate, he’s clearly the second most well-positioned to win this award, and that 18/1 price you got initially is a bet to be proud of, no matter what. If only pride counted when it comes to our online betting bankrolls.
I understand your pass on the Steelers moneyline. But I find myself liking your team against the spread on Sunday. Even though the 11 you found earlier in the week is gone as I write this Wednesday morning, and it now appears to be 10.5 at every Pennsylvania sportsbook, the Eagles’ second-half fades have me doubting their ability to cover double digits.
In second halves this year, as I wrote in my Monday “Line It Up” column on US Bets, the Eagles are getting outscored by nearly 4 points per game so far. They’ve “won” the second half only once through six games. But they’re six-for-six on outscoring their opponents in the first half.
All the sportsbooks have the Eagles -6.5 in the first half against the Steelers, while you can get the Steelers +6.5 in the second half at FanDuel or can even bet the Steelers’ second-half moneyline at up to +240. I like all of those numbers. How ‘bout you, my favorite yinzer? (“Yinzer” is a term of endearment, right?)
And one year-end awards question for you, since you fired one my way: I’m seeing Kenny Pickett as high as +2200 at PointsBet for Offensive Rookie of the Year. You’ve been watching him closely. I haven’t. Worth a dart throw?
Kenny Pickett has thrown 7 interceptions in his first 4 career games.
The only other rookie QB to throw 5+ INT in their first 4 career games (and play in at least 4 games) with the Steelers was Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, who would go on to win 4 Super Bowls for the Steelers.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 24, 2022
Rotstein: Fine to call me your “favorite yinzer,” as opposed to calling me your “favorite jagoff,” which would be an oxymoron. If you have Philadelphia variants of yinzer and jagoff, I would be happy to know.
Those are interesting second-half stats I was unaware of, and they brought to mind for me the first pro football game I ever attended — 54 years ago as I type this — between our two teams at Pitt Stadium on Oct. 27, 1968. The Eagles and Steelers would each win just two games that year. At halftime, the Eagles were ahead 3-0. In a stirring second-half comeback, led by multiple quarterbacks who were a combined 9 for 28 passing, the Steelers won 6-3. I’m not sure what prompted me to ever attend or watch an NFL game again.
But to your point, yes, based on that one game of theirs I’ve seen in person, it does definitely seem there’s a long-term trend there of Eagles futility in the second half. And to be more current, I see the Eagles are 30th of 32 teams in averaging 5.8 points in the second half this year. Can you guess which team is 29th by averaging 5.9 points? And can you guess which team has scored exactly zero second-half points in two of its last three games? Can you guess which yinzer doesn’t want to bet on his team in the second half?
As for Pickett, every western Pennsylvanian loves him for winning Pitt national respect seemingly for the first time since Jonas Salk rolled out the polio vaccine there in 1954. But his wide receivers don’t seem to get open for him much better than Dr. Salk would, and he (Pickett, not Salk) thus forces passes that become interceptions. I thought I was a soothsayer a few weeks back when I got him as Offensive Rookie of the Year at 15/1 on DraftKings — odds worth about twice the reward of what he would have provided preseason — just days in advance of his unexpectedly being sent into a game for the first time and then replacing Mitch Trubisky as starter. I’m not seeing a turnaround, though, to make my investment look good now, or even a new one at 22/1.
Within hours, we should have some player prop bets on the game to recommend. In the meantime, I leave you with this question: Can you guess who was president the last time the Steelers won in Philadelphia? (Hint: He’s been dead for a long, long time.)
Raskin: Guessing games? In the internet age? Is that still a thing (exiting writing tab to do some Googling)? It seems it hasn’t happened since 1965 (wow!), so that means LBJ was the president, and … it’s never happened when I’ve been alive to see it.
And now, I’m going to conclude my contribution to this exchange by singling out a few player props I like for Sunday.
Looking at DraftKings, the juice is prohibitively heavy on Pickett under 1.5 passing TDs (-275) but somewhat tempting on Pickett over 1.5 interceptions (+170). That’s a line that is almost always set at 0.5 for other QBs in other matchups, but given that the Eagles are second in the league with 9 picks and lead the NFL in turnover differential at +12, it makes sense.
I also like Eagles RB Miles Sanders over 9.5 receiving yards (-110), Steelers kicker Chris Boswell over 1.5 field goals (+110), and Hurts over 281.5 passing + rushing yards (-115).
My final score prediction: Eagles 24, Steelers 16 — a nice backdoor cover for your boys. Hit me with yours, as well as any player props you like. Let’s wrap this up so I can go get a head start on staking out my spot for the Phillies’ championship parade.
Rotstein: Save a spot on Broad Street for me and my $10 ticket from a month ago on the Phillies to win it all at 30/1. As you can see, I have no bias against Philadelphia teams when it comes to betting on them, while you may be rooting with both your heart and wallet for Pickett to throw a lot of interceptions and the Steelers’ drives to stall so Boswell can kick field goals. So be it — hard for me to argue.
Going back to your original point about the difference between how the Eagles perform in the first versus second half, I note that FanDuel has a line of -120 on the Eagles over/under 13.5 points in the first half. Your guys have exceeded that amount in every first half this season, and some of those defenses were better than that of the Watt-less Steelers, so I will be betting that over.
FanDuel also has a price of -115 for a Jalen Hurts anytime TD, which is a lot better than its competitors (Unibet is among those at -148, for example). He’s played six games and scored six TDs so far. Give me a second to do the math here, and … well, looks like a 100% chance then that he crosses the goal line. I’ll be betting on that, as it will also help my MVP bet when he does.
And as I write this to close things out Friday morning, FanDuel’s line sits at Eagles favored by 10.5 with an over/under of 43.5. Your 24-16 final score — while optimistic for Steelers bettors — isn’t far from that, and I hope you took advantage of DraftKings’ line of 75/1 for your score to be on the nose.
My own guess? Eagles 34, Steelers 13. I won’t be happy to be right, but it’ll at least give you two Chris Boswell field goals. Hooray!
Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY