The Eagles and Steelers both lost franchise cornerstones in different ways this week, and the oddsmakers figure it will matter a lot more to Philadelphia than Pittsburgh.
That’s because MVP candidate Jalen Hurts will miss the game itself against the Cowboys in Dallas Saturday, while the unexpected death of Hall of Famer Franco Harris only leaves him absent from pageantry in Pittsburgh that night connected to the 50th anniversary of his “Immaculate Reception” against the Oakland Raiders.
Despite their NFL-best 13-1 record, the Eagles were already to be underdogs against the 10-4 Cowboys, and the line at Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks shifted further Thursday morning with coach Nick Sirianni’s confirmation that Hurts’ sprained shoulder would cause him to miss at least one game. Gardner Minshew will start instead.
“Gardner worked his butt off for this opportunity against a really good football team and had a great practice yesterday.
I think you guys have all heard that, how good a practice he had. A lot of energy out there. He's ready to go”
-Nick Sirianni on Gardner Minshew starting pic.twitter.com/3paLkZNfdT
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) December 22, 2022
An Eagles backer could commonly get 6 points betting on them Thursday, while the line had been 4.5 the day before when there was still a chance Hurts would play. The moneyline also shifted so that a payoff of better than 2/1 on a Philadelphia win is now possible.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is commonly a 2.5-point favorite at home versus the Raiders. It’s the same line that existed before startling word of Harris’ untimely death spread Wednesday, meaning the oddsmakers don’t see the Steelers as playing with any extra motivation on his behalf that makes a difference in the game’s outcome.
Mike Tomlin: “We lost a great one in Franco Harris. Obviously we’re all heartbroken. We do look forward to honoring him and his legacy this weekend.” pic.twitter.com/ivVSSzEqli
— Chris Halicke (@ChrisHalicke) December 21, 2022
Minshew hopes to repeat 2021 success
Despite his injury during Sunday’s Bears game, Hurts ran for three touchdowns in a 25-20 victory that was the Eagles’ fifth straight win. Now, with veteran backup Minshew starting, Ian Book will be in reserve.
In a similar situation subbing for Hurts against the New York Jets last December, Minshew completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions to lead a victory.
Sirianni called Minshew this week “a great backup quarterback that could be starting on teams in this league and we know that. … He’s ready to go because of the football IQ he has, the intelligence he has.”
Those two TD balls he threw against the Jets were caught by Dallas Goedert, who is returning from injury Saturday to give Minshew plenty of options alongside A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, who combined for 14 catches totaling 306 yards against the Bears.
The Cowboys lost Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 40-34, when Dak Prescott was intercepted for a touchdown on his first pass of overtime. It continued an unsettling trend for the Cowboys QB, who has now thrown seven interceptions in his last four games.
And while Dallas is close behind Philadelphia in position as one of the league leaders in many defensive categories, the Cowboys also gave up more than 500 total yards to the Jaguars. Injuries in their secondary could help ease Minshew’s transition back into a starting role.
The Eagles beat the Cowboys 26-17 in Philadelphia on Oct. 16, though that was with Dallas backup Cooper Rush filling in behind center due to a Prescott injury.
A couple of sportsbooks favored Dallas by only 5.5 Thursday morning, but DraftKings, BetMGM, Barstool Sportsbook, and Caesars Sportsbook were among the many options at 6. DraftKings and Betway were offering an Eagles moneyline of +230, and the over/under was most commonly 46.5.
As for Hurts’ MVP odds, he was the favorite over Patrick Mahomes a week ago and up through early Monday morning until media reports of his injury. With less of a chance now to match Mahomes statistically and no way to lead Philadelphia to as many as 16 possible wins, Hurts has become a substantial underdog. At Caesars, a bettor can now get a +550 return on Hurts claiming the league’s top award, with the return elsewhere ranging from +325 (BetRivers, betPARX, Unibet among them) to +450 (FanDuel).
An even matchup in frigid conditions
The Steelers and Raiders both have 6-8 records and very slim hopes of playing into the postseason, and only the winner Saturday night will be able to still make the latter statement afterward.
On Sunday, the Steelers rather methodically dispatched the Carolina Panthers 24-16, while the Raiders beat the New England Patriots 30-24 by virtue of one of the worst miscues on a final play in NFL history.
That Steelers win came with Mitch Trubisky filling in capably for concussed quarterback Kenny Pickett, but Pickett has been cleared again and will start on Saturday.
The sportsbooks consistently list Pittsburgh as a 2.5-point favorite against Las Vegas, meaning in light of the Steelers’ home field advantage that the teams are basically considered even. DraftKings, BetMGM, and Wind Creek/Betfred were among books offering the best moneyline return on the Steelers at -135.
With the Steelers home field — in Acrisure Stadium on the banks of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers — comes a forecast of blisteringly cold conditions. The temperature for kickoff at 8:15 may be in the single digits, with potential for high gusts and the wind chill dipping below zero.
The potential for scoring is thus diminished to the point that the over/under is as low as 38 at DraftKings, with only FanDuel and FOX Bet going as high as 39.
Both teams may need to rely on their running games, and Najee Harris’ 86 yards on 24 carries against the Panthers led Pittsburgh to 156 yards on the ground overall. The Raiders gave up 206 rushing yards to the Patriots despite winning the game.
Las Vegas, however, has the leading rusher in the NFL, even if Josh Jacobs isn’t generally as well-known as Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb. His 93 yards on 22 carries versus New England boosted him to 1,495 total on the year, with 11 rushing TDs.
Photo: Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY