Penn Bets has two writers based in Pennsylvania, Gary Rotstein in Pittsburgh and Eric Raskin in suburban Philadelphia. They like one another well enough, but like all good sports fans in their respective cities, they tend to despise one another’s favorite teams. They engaged in the following exchange about their rivalry, and the gambling surrounding it this week, to celebrate the quadrennial matchup occurring this weekend between the Steelers and Eagles:
Rotstein: COVID is tough, Steelers are maybe tougher
Hey Eric! Greetings from your cross-state colleague in Pittsburgh, where your and my beloved NFL teams meet Sunday afternoon in a contest between division leaders in front of thousands of fans. What could be better?!
Well, I guess it would be better if the Eagles (1-2-1) were actually deserving of first place instead of being the equivalent in the NFC East of the least sick among all the COVID-infected White House staff. And it would be better if the Steelers hadn’t lost the momentum of a 3-0 start by having last week’s game with the Titans canceled by that very same foe: COVID. And if there would be 65,000 fans twirling Terrible Towels at Heinz Field instead of the 5,500 allowed in for the first time. (Again, COVID!)
But hey, in 2020, we’ll take anything we can get, right? And while it’s a shame Philadelphia or Pittsburgh has to lose Sunday, we can hope for each to win every game thereafter and meet in February in the Super Bowl to create a lot of rich Pennsylvanians among those who took advantage of FOX Bet’s pre-season offer of 100/1 odds for just that occurrence. I trust you were in on that one.
For Sunday’s game, the online Pennsylvania sportsbooks are in agreement (as I write this first part of our exchange Wednesday) that the Steelers should be a 7-point favorite. I’m not sure what to think about that, given the Steelers’ unexpected layoff and how the Eagles could be poised to turn their season around, based on Sunday night’s 25-20 upset of the 49ers in San Francisco. Maybe the Eagles prefer being on the road, where they don’t have to listen to talk-show hosts and callers berating an interception-throwing quarterback and tie-loving coach?
I do like this Steelers team, based on a defense that has as few weaknesses in it as the Dodgers’ lineup. But rather than loving the black-and-gold for this particular game, I invested money recently in their winning the AFC North (they are still +250 at many sites) considering they are a half-game ahead of the Ravens in the standings and have similar schedules going forward.
Are you investing in the Eagles this week? I’ll hang up now and let you talk.
Raskin: Moneyline more appealing than spread
You can belittle Doug Pederson as “tie-loving” all you want, Gary, but by avoiding the loss in overtime against Cincinnati, he enabled the Eagles to now sit in first place all alone instead of sharing it with Washington and Dallas. That’s some pretty impressive foresight, if you ask me.
Anyway, these back-and-forths are, to a degree, predicated on the drama inherent in you supporting your team and me supporting mine, but the reality is, my Eagles have given me no reason to believe in them yet this season. Not even cashing in on a +250 moneyline bet last week against the 49ers (which I only made because of FOX Bet‘s free-bet-if-it-loses promo) has restored my faith. This team is a mess. The offensive line and wide receiver corps have been decimated by injuries, the defense couldn’t seem to make a timely play until, finally, it picked off a couple of errant passes Sunday night by San Francisco’s second-string quarterback, and Pederson has repeatedly given me reason to suspect Dr. Evil went back in time and stole his mojo.
So while the unofficial rules of these articles dictate that I should be saying, “Yes, I’m investing in the Eagles this week,” I’m awfully hesitant. I’m not confident they can cover 7 points against a solid Steelers team. But I guess the moneyline — as high as +280 at DraftKings and the other Kambi sites — is intriguing. If they can beat the Niners on the road, they can beat the Steelers on the road too, right? Actually, don’t answer that. The Steelers aren’t missing their starting QB and they enjoy the benefit of coming off an unexpected bye week. All things considered, +280 is an OK price for a long-shot upset, but I wouldn’t say it screams value.
The Eagles at +140 to win the NFC East, which is the price offered by both DraftKings and FanDuel, might, however. I believe Carson Wentz is becoming wildly underrated, as for the second season in a row, he’s being asked to make magic happen with JV pass catchers and he never gets any time in the pocket. If he gets DeSean Jackson, Jalen Reagor, and a couple of his banged-up linemen back, there’s no reason this team can’t battle its way to, say, 7-8-1 — which, sadly, ought to be enough to win the gruesome East.
How crazy is it that the 3-0 Steelers have much longer odds to win their division than the 1-2-1 Birds? (That’s a rhetorical question, but you can answer it if you want.)
Here’s a more direct one: What do you think of this wacky “custom bet” I found on FOX Bet: Each team to score at least 1 TD and 1 FG in each half pays +1250. In this year of inflated offense, does Steelers-Eagles strike you as a game where both teams might put a lot of points on the board and pay off that prop?
Rotstein: Could be the lowest-scoring game of the week
Glad to see you’re not a homer willing to throw money down on his team no matter what the circumstances. I’m shocked, Eric — shocked, I say! — to learn this about one of my colleagues.
As for the +1250 offer from FOX Bet for abundant scoring of both types by both teams, it screams sucker bet to me. These are not two high-powered offenses — neither has scored 30 points yet in a game this year, which I believe is like some sort of cardinal sin that arouses snickers from other teams in the NFL these days. Heck, eight teams are averaging at least 30 points.
Checking the actual stats, I see the Steelers actually met the TD/FG-per-half threshold in two of their three games this year, and the Eagles in one of four. Doing so jointly is in the realm of possibility, but being such a believer in a Steel Curtain that reminds me of glory years when I had a lot more hair, I’m not risking my money on it.
I am, however — and now you can accuse me of being the homer — backing Ben Roethlisberger with an investment in his Comeback Player of the Year prospects. He sits at +300 from FOX Bet to win the award, just ahead of Cam Newton’s +320. A week ago, Roethlisberger was +320 while Newton was +160, and I jumped on Big Ben the moment Newton was announced as COVID-positive, forcing him to miss Monday’s Patriots game. He apparently will miss another this weekend.
I would never want to win money by virtue of an athlete’s hardship (ha!), but Cam, get plenty of rest, bud!
Speaking of high scoring in the NFL, where the “overs” are winning at a nearly 60% clip this year, I see that FanDuel has our game’s over/under at 44.5. That’s tied for lowest in the league this week with the Thursday night Buccaneers-Bears game (the under cashed on that one) and Chargers-Washington. Care to counter my pride in the Steelers D by giving that one a try?
Raskin: Root for points (especially in the first half)
Let’s see … The Steelers are averaging 26.67 points scored per game and the Eagles are averaging 26.75 allowed, so 27 points seems a perfect baseline expectation for Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, that Steel Curtain of yours is surrendering just 19.33 points per game while this injury-plagued Iggles offense is putting up 21 per game. Sounds like the numbers point to a 27-20 Steelers win. (Which lines up remarkably well with that 7-point spread, huh?) Add in the fact that it’s always more fun to root for overs, and I say, what the heck, why not put a few bucks on over 44.5? One note: I’m inclined to wait until Sunday to make that bet, so we can factor in the final injury report and maybe take advantage of some reduced juice from BetRivers or Barstool Sportsbook.
Here’s something to consider about the relatively few points you expect the Eagles to put on the board: In three of four games so far this season, they’ve tallied more points in the first half than the second, and in total, they’ve scored 54 in the first half and 30 in the second (not to mention that goose egg they laid in the extra 10 minutes against the Bengals).
With that in mind, here’s a bet I like on FanDuel: First half total touchdowns by the away team, with the line set at 1 and mouth-watering +132 juice on the over. For the home team, the line is 1.5, with the over priced at -104 and the under at -122. I’m not sure if you have a strong feeling on that one, but as far as the Eagles are concerned, I really like that over — with the understanding that there’s a high probability the bet pushes. But that’s OK. It has all the makings of a fun sweat, especially if the Eagles punch the ball in once and you get to spend the rest of the half freerolling.
Good job pouncing on that Big Ben Comeback Player of the Year prop, he’s sure looking like a smart bet right now. Any thoughts on individual player props for this game? I’m seeing Roethlisberger’s passing yards at 269.5, James Conner’s rushing yards at 59.5, Juju Smith-Schuster’s receiving yards at 64.5, and Diontae Johnson’s at 58.5. The Eagles are allowing 108.8 rushing yards per game and there’s a good chance the Steelers will be operating with a lead, so is the over on Conner a wise wager, or does something else jump out at you?
Rotstein: The theory of using betting to breed happiness
Wait, Eric, did you just write “Juju”? OMG, that is such a Philadelphia thing to do! Everyone west of the Susquehanna River knows it’s JuJu. Did you guys used to call that fairly good basketball player of yours “Dr. j” or something?
But as to Smith-Schuster’s anticipated performance in Sunday’s game, I am not bullish on going over 64.5. Roethlisberger has been spreading the ball around a lot, and it’s not a dynamic passing offense to start with — his 259 passing yards per game ranks 16th in the league. Smith-Schuster’s three games’ totals are 69-48-43. So if anything, I’d bet the under there.
The apparently healthy Conner — rare to place that adjective before his name — is another matter, after exceeding 100 yards the past two games. Combine that with the 108.8 you note the Eagles are giving up on average, and over-59.5 sounds pretty good. Or I am considering this since I like bigger payouts (silly me): FOX Bet has a combined over-150 rushing yards from Conner and Miles Sanders for +160 (“boosted” from a supposed +135). Rain is possible Sunday afternoon, which would be all the better for that one.
Oh, wait, as I sit here writing on Thursday, I see that the Kambi-backed sportsbooks (DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Parx, Barstool) have all shifted the point spread to 7.5 for the Eagles. I am putting money down quickly on them, and if it stays the same, I will bet even more Sunday, as BetRivers/PlaySugarHouse offer a 50% profit boost that day for any single NFL game.
This is all based on the genius Rotstein theory of using sports betting to balance out life happiness: If the Eagles cover, I am happy for winning money. If they are blown out by the Steelers, I am happy for my home team winning. And if I hit that sweet “middle” where the Steelers win but by a touchdown or less? Well, I am as happy as Octomom must have been this fall if she heard her kids’ school was resuming normal classes. But no matter what, I can’t lose.
You should really think about backing the Steelers somehow, some way, to find your own inner happiness on Sunday, Eric. Regardless, in spite of the whole JuJu debacle, I wish you success in some form this week, my cross-state brother.
Raskin: An emotional hedge with lose-lose potential
I was simply following a sportsbook’s spelling on “Juju,” but if you say to capitalize the second “J,” I trust you over some sportsbook’s crack editorial team. Just tread lightly making jokes at the expense of Julius Erving, who will always be Philadelphia’s one, true “Doc.”
As for backing the Steelers in pursuit of an emotional hedge, I’m already there in a non-monetary sense, having made the Steelers -7 one of my five picks on this week’s Gamble On podcast SuperContest-style competition. The danger is that very same “middle” that you’re hoping for: The Eagles could lose but cover, and then I’m broke and heartbroken.
So I think my approach on Sunday will be as follows: Bet the over (fun!), bet the Eagles over 1 first-half touchdown (more fun!), bet Conner’s rushing yardage over (not fun, but seems like a sharp bet), and follow your lead and bet the Steelers to win their division. It’s a bet that will still be drawing perfectly live if my Eagles prevail, but it also gives me something to feel a tiny bit good about if the Steelers remain undefeated after Sunday.
I would say “may the best team win,” but since I don’t believe I have the best team in this all-PA showdown, I’ll instead wish that you and I both finish the weekend with bigger bankrolls than we have now. And I’ll say, “May the worst team get all the bounces and calls” (in a high-scoring affair). And we’ll see ya (or yinz, as Pittsburghers oddly say) again in the Super Bowl.
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