On the heels of both teams’ final preseason games, two of Penn Bets’ writers, Philadelphia-based Eric Raskin and Pittsburgh-based Gary Rotstein, have somewhat differing views on which which Pennsylvania NFL team will have the better season. In this article, Raskin and Rotstein discuss and debate the betting options for both teams, as the first full NFL season with legal sports betting in PA closes in.
Raskin: Eagles are beasts of the East
Let’s start with the basics: I’m a lifelong Eagles fan, which means I’m biased. But not in the way you might think. Rooting for Philly sports teams means expecting to be disappointed. So I come into most seasons for most of my teams with either tempered enthusiasm or expectations of all-out disaster.
This Eagles season is an exception. Part of that has to do with the NFC East, where the Cowboys are expected to be middle-of-the-road and the Giants and Redskins might be utter doormats. At -125 at all of the PA online sportsbooks, my “Iggles” are priced attractively to win their division — especially when you consider that some metrics see them as having the third-easiest schedule in the whole league.
Everything hinges on quarterback Carson Wentz’s health, of course. If he goes down with an injury, well, I wish I could say, “all bets are off,” but unfortunately, all bets count (unless the book you use decides to grant you a goodwill refund, as some did for Colts bettors earlier this week).
At FanDuel Sportsbook, the team’s win total is 9.5, but the price is a staggering -176 on the over. At Play SugarHouse, the total is 10 with -139 juice. I expect the over to hit, but there’s enough uncertainty, due to Wentz’s injury history, to make it a stayaway with those prices, in my view.
I follow the Eagles much more closely than I follow the Steelers, naturally, but my casual perspective is that Ben Roethlisberger, at 37, is dropping off more rapidly than his still-gaudy stats suggest and that the +120 juice on them going under 9 wins is much more attractive than paying -140 on the over. Gary, I know you’re higher on the Steelers than I am. Am I overrating the impact of losing Antonio Brown?
And do you disagree with my stance that, assuming no major Wentz injuries, the Eagles are a near-lock for 10 or more wins and a division title?
Rotstein: Better bet without Brown
Hmmm, you and everyone else in the world rate the Eagles, a 9-7 team last year, far higher than the Steelers (9-6-1). Is this all just a matter of Wentz being (perhaps, maybe, potentially) healthy all year and Antonio B. now playing some 2k miles away from Heinz Field? Are those personnel changes enough to justify the Eagles being -165 in a head-to-head matchup against the Steelers (+135) in the futures bet offered identically by Sugarhouse/Rivers/Parx (all of which use Kambi to originate odds) on which team will win more games. I’m not saying the Eagles shouldn’t be ranked higher, but at odds that wide?
Here’s the three-word refrain most commonly heard around Pittsburgh this summer, rather ironically considering Brown is arguably the league’s best wide receiver: Addition … By … Subtraction. Such a head case. Such a prima donna. (Yeah, I know, what star wide receiver isn’t?) Such a me-first instead of team-first guy. Without him, there’s still JuJu Smith-Schuster and a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the league in passing yards (and, um, OK, interceptions too) last year and is adept at spreading the ball around to powerful tight end Vance McDonald, multi-dimensional running back James Conner, and anyone else the Steelers want to stick in there, from James Washington to Diontae Johnson to, if worst comes to worst, Eric Raskin.
Maybe more importantly than any of that, the Steelers — who collapsed late in games uncharacteristically last year, with their last three losses all by 3 points — have a stouter defense with No. 1 pick Devin Bush (FanDuel has him as the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at +500) and veteran free agent signings at linebacker (Mark Barron) and the secondary (Steven Nelson). And it does not seem possible that once-reliable kicker Chris Boswell will miss every meaningful field goal as he did in 2018.
Talent issues aside, the Eagles do probably benefit from an easier division and schedule. Division-wise, however, virtually no one in Pittsburgh is buying the hype about the Browns, whom all the Pennsylvania online sites give an edge over the Steelers to win the AFC North (Browns +145 vs. Steelers +150 at FanDuel and a wider Browns +140 vs. Steelers +160 at Sugarhouse/Rivers/Parx).
Eric, did you notice the intriguing futures bet for both of us offered by FanDuel, in which Pennsylvania is +800 to win the Super Bowl? Either the Eagles (+1300 alone) or Steelers (+1800) win, and you can eat all the cheesesteaks you want for the next year. The only state that’s a bigger favorite is California, +460 if any of the Raiders, Rams, Chargers, or 49ers win. Shall we make a joint Pennsy wager so we can root for one another instead of being the usual hated rivals?
Raskin: Back the Wentz-Ertz connection
I like that spirit of cooperation — but not the actual odds, since, no offense, but I’m just not buying the Steelers as a potential champ. Maybe they’ll be better than I expect. Like the Eagles, they have some softies on their schedule (and are among the teams whose win total expectations went up by about a half-game when Andrew Luck retired). But I can’t see them going all the way, so I’d sooner bet the Eagles alone at +1300. In fact, I did bet the Eagles back in February at opening odds of +1600.
Side note: Lactose and I don’t get along and I’m off the red meat, so cheesesteaks aren’t the best lure for me.
Side note No. 2: While I appreciate the humor, you definitely don’t want Big Ben tossing me the ball. I have decent hands, but I don’t break tackles; tackles break me.
Let’s move on to some players props. I’m not quite on board that Carson Wentz MVP train, because the MVP usually comes from a team that wins at least 12 games and is a top seed, and I’m not overconfident enough to expect all that.
I do like Wentz for over 29.5 passing TDs, though (-110 at the Kambi sites). He threw 33 in 13 games in 2017, was on pace for over 30 last year if he’d stayed healthy, and I love his 2019 weapons. I also like over 6.5 receiving TDs for Zach Ertz, who scored eight each of the last two seasons.
And I should balance my optimism with an under that I like: at 850.5, Alshon Jeffrey’s receiving yards line is a mite high. Due in large part to spotty health, that’s a number he hasn’t topped since 2014. With Ertz, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and all those RBs needing targets, I don’t see Alshon’s numbers going up at age 29.
Any Steelers player props jumping out at you? And do you like your Steelers at +205 on the moneyline to go into Foxboro and upset the Pats in Week 1?
Rotstein: Ben > Baker
After watching Steelers-Pats games of the Brady era, that moneyline might need to be +2005 instead of +205 to get me to risk anything. Then again, the Pats have had a habit of starting slow out of the gate lately, so …
While I’m sorry you can’t eat cheesesteaks or be a quality NFL wide receiver — I wasn’t look for anything dynamic, just a little crafty guy who finds a place to settle out in the flat five to eight yards downfield on third down — I do admire your faith in your team after that history of disappointment. I just hope you’re not one of those Philadelphians who was booing Sean Rodriguez the day after he hit that walk-off home run against the Pirates this week. That was classic, like you guys are bordering on lapsing into self-parody.
Anyway, player props — while Roethlisberger led the league with 5,129 passing yards last year, he has an over/under of 4300.5 yards from the Kambi sites and 4325.5 yards from FanDuel. Just to prove I’m no homer, I’m going to say I like the under from FanDuel, considering a couple of missed games from football-related injuries (concussion, turf toe, etc.) or age-related ailments (arthritis, dementia, etc.) would make that bet a lock.
Interestingly, Ben is also tied with Jameis Winston at +850 as the QB deemed most likely to lead the league in interceptions. (I always think that wording is funny: “lead the league in interceptions,” like it’s a good thing to lead in, but how else are we supposed to word it?)
My favorite Big Ben pick of all, however, is a one-on-one even matchup against Baker Mayfield for who will have more passing yards. Baker’s going to have to show me something more before I consider him the equal of a Hall-of-Famer who just led the league in that stat.
Elsewhere, I see James Conner with a +108 number on over 10 rushing TDs. He had 12 last year. Should only be better this year, as he made a big leap from first season to second. Maybe I’m deluded by the fact that he’s one of the most inspirational athletes ever in Pittsburgh — hell, in the universe — and I really want to root for him. But yeah, I like that plus price.
You are aware, I trust, that a recent Sporting News article has the Cowboys beating the Eagles for the division title. I bet that scared you.
Raskin: Pennsylvania powers, unite!
(Cancels subscription to Sporting News.)
I wasn’t there the night we booed Rodriguez, but I was in fact at the ballpark the night before, when he hit the walkoff. (Can’t claim to have stayed until the end, however; I was with the kids and it went into extra innings.) Anyway, you know what buttons to push, picking on the reputation of Philly sports fans. I shall resist the urge to go low in return by posting a gif of Sid Bream sliding into home.
Anyway, I’m with you on Conner. That TD line seems a little low. In fact, in between typing that last sentence and this one, I went ahead and put real money on that over. Consider that a friendly gesture to make up for my declining the joint PA Super Bowl bet earlier.
Speaking of joint bets that give us something to root for together, the Kambi sites have a “combined Eagles and Steelers regular-season wins” prop with a line of 19.5. Should we go in together on that one and have to root for each other’s teams all season?
By the way, the Steelers to make the playoffs, though -110 favorites at SugarHouse/Rivers/Parx, are +104 underdogs at FanDuel. That seems like a golden opportunity to put your money where your Primanti Bros.-eating mouth is, would you agree?
Rotstein: 19.5 combined wins might be pushing it
A big thumbs-up on Conner. He’ll probably promise a different sick kid every week he’ll score a TD for them, so there’s 16 right there as a baseline.
I’m doing the algorithms in my head on the 19.5 number and … and … am giving pause. At 19, I’m right there with you. At 18.5, I’m betting the dog and the grown kids and whatever kids they end up having. But 19.5, sheesh, no margin for error. Either QB goes down, and it’s sayonara, hard-earned money (or, well, just money). Can I get back to you in December on that one?
But any plus price on the Steelers to make the playoffs is worth serious consideration. Until last year, they had made it four straight years, and if Mike Tomlin wasn’t the worst coach in the league with challenge flags (hasn’t been successful with one since 2016, rather astoundingly), the Steelers lost enough close games last year that one wise red flag could have tipped the outcome in the opposite direction. And guess what? Tomlin is going to have a designated coach to help him with challenges this year!
Interestingly, just as FanDuel has a better playoff price on the Steelers than its competitors, it does likewise with your Eagles, putting them -205 instead of -225. So FanDuel seems less optimistic about the Pennsylvania teams than do the other sites, but the two teams’ fans are the beneficiaries, if they want to put their money where their hearts lie.
Regardless, it’s been a fun discussion. Maybe even more fun that that fabulous Steagles season of 1943 we all remember, when the two franchises were forced to merge during wartime and still meandered to a 5-4-1 record, missing the young NFL’s playoffs. But hey, that’s Pennsylvania for yinz.
Photo by Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports