Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (NBC, 8:20 p.m. ET)
Betting Odds: New England -5.5, Total 49
Last Five Head-to-Head Meetings:
Dec. 16, 2018 – Pittsburgh 17 vs. New England 10 (Steelers +2.5, Under 55.5)
Dec. 17, 2017 – New England 27 at Pittsburgh 24 (Patriots -2.5, Under 52.5)
Jan. 22, 2017 – New England 36 vs. Pittsburgh 17 (Patriots -6, Over 49.5)
Oct. 23, 2016 – New England 27 at Pittsburgh 16 (Patriots – 7, Under 49)
Sept. 10, 2015 – New England 28 vs. Pittsburgh 21 (Patriots -7, Under 51)
There might be some big names gone from what’s become an annual game between the Steelers and Patriots on Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean the first SNF game of the season won’t be a good one. There won’t be LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, or Rob Gronkowski involved on the field in this contest – the 5th straight year these two have met in the regular season – as it’s a year of reloading and redefining their identity for both New England and Pittsburgh.
Sunday Night Football History
There is still plenty of talent on both sidelines, and in another year where both have their sights set on division titles and more accolades from there, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker could prove to be important by the time Santa is snooping around our chimneys. But we are a long ways away from that entering the conversation, as now it’s all about whether or not the Patriots can win this game by about a TD.
With this year being the 100th anniversary of the NFL, the usual spot on TNF to open up a new campaign for the defending champs was pushed back to give the longest rivalry (Green Bay/Chicago) in the league the spotlight on opening night. And while that game wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, it was expected given that starters on both sides had next to nothing in terms of preseason action and were working out plenty of kinks on TNF. That’s something to keep in mind as you go through the entire Week 1 card, but for this SNF game we should get a much better overall brand of football.
History suggests that we will in the sense that over the past eight years, Week 1 SNF games are 6-2 O/U with an average of 48.25 points scored. One of those two ‘unders’ against the closing number came in the 2016 year when the Patriots opened up in Arizona on SNF with Jimmy Garoppolo under center while Brady served his suspension. There weren’t many believers in the Patriots that day, but the ‘under’ also only came in by the hook, so there is a case to be made that these Week 1 prime time games tend to be a swoon for ‘over’ bettors.
That hasn’t been the case according to the market this week as action has been hot and heavy on the ‘under’ for weeks now after this game originally opened up at 51.5. Obviously missing all those big name playmakers as “known” entities plays a part in that, but both franchises are likely looking for more of a defensive identity as it is.
Betting percentages currently show a strong 80+% of bets on this ‘under’ so far, and that historical average of 48.25 points for Week 1 SNF games would still cash an ‘under’ ticket at the current number. However, if you break down that set of eight games that have opened up the SNF season in the past to just the non-division matchups – remember, with the defending champs typically getting the TNF showcase, SNF was reserved for divisional rivalries, this year that’s flipped – the O/U mark is 3-1 O/U with that lone being the Garoppolo start vs Arizona that lost by the hook. The Average points scored there clocks in at exactly 50 points per game, which puts this current line of 49 right in the cross hairs of history.
Regarding the side, the spread has seen about a 55/45 split in favor of New England, as the number keeps bouncing around between -5.5 and -6. That type of two-way action is what oddsmakers prefer to see, and until we get to see what these revamped identities for both teams start to look like, it’s hard to confidently side with either group in this spot.
Bettors on the Steelers side of things are looking at a possible “addition by subtraction” scenario this year with the distractions of Bell and Brown being gone, as the less off-field stuff that a football team has to answer to each week is never a bad thing. The Steelers seemed to survive on the field without Bell last year as they remain high on Conner and the rest of their RB core, but the production lost from Brown’s departure will have to be made up somewhere, and that’s a lot to put on the shoulders of young guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington who find themselves in prominent roles this year.
From a Patriots backer perspective, relying on the known entity of the Brady/Belichick duo is a big part of why someone would lay these points, even with New England being a slow starter both SU and ATS traditionally these past few years. Brady’s another year older at 42 years old, and with his security blanket in Gronk now retired, things will look a bit different. But it’s not like Brady hasn’t played well (or often) when the oft-injured Gronk wasn’t on the field, and that could easily be the case for New England this season too.
The Patriots side also has the backing of history in terms of what defending champions have done the following year out of the gate, but Pittsburgh is a quality foe where six points does have the look of a number that could potentially be too high.
Cases for and against each side are rather easy to make, and the ones for each side tend to lack conviction, so the spread is one that’s probably best to pass on for the week. Openers of -5.5 tend to bring some indecision from an oddsmaking perspective as well in that that spread resides in no man’s land and is placed with the intention of moving. The fact that this line has essentially stayed in that range for months suggests that there is plenty of indecision from an overall betting perspective too.
The total is one where I believe the better betting option lies, and while it is hard to ignore the respective move down, the ‘over’ between these two teams is where I’m going.
Both QB’s are vets that have seen it all in this league, and with months of prep time already completed, the questions that bettors may have about new faces in prominent roles on both sides, is probably just flat out confidence from Brady and Roethlisberger’s perspective. Getting to 50 points isn’t a huge ask for these two teams, and given the initial negative feedback from TNF about it being a sloppy, non-entertaining game, I’m sure the NFL wouldn’t mind to have it’s next prime time showcase of the year turn into a back-and-forth shootout.
As long as the total stays below 50, ‘over’ should be the way to go.