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Week 8 Sunday Night Football Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| October 26, 2017 12:00 am PDT
steelers-vs-lions

For the Week 8 edition of Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions, a highly anticipated matchup featuring two playoff teams from last season.

These two teams are among the oldest in the entire National Football League. Because these two teams have always been located in roughly the same geographic region, they’ve had the opportunity to match up stretching all the way back to 1934, back when professional football clubs were just in their infancy and long-distance travel was impractical.

Yet somehow, in the 80+ year head-to-head series, these two teams have never met in prime-time.

With this game being televised on NBC, undoubtedly Al Michaels – the great historian of the game – will pick up on this historic first evening matchup between the Steelers and Lions.

  • Who: Pittsburgh Steelers (5–2) vs. Detroit Lions (3–3)
  • Where: Ford Field. Detroit, Michigan
  • When: Sunday, October 29, 2017. 8:30 PM (EST) on NBC

Records like this are being broken each and every week in the NFL, and the league seems to be constantly changing and evolving. Even this matchup itself, if it had been played a mere three weeks before, would have had a much different narrative surrounding it.

October football is a great equalizer in the National Football League, and the change from September to October has meant very different things for these two teams.

For the Detroit Lions, the beginning of the season saw the team come out like gangbusters, firing on all cylinders and looking like one of the teams to beat in the weak NFC.

The biggest thing that seemed to have changed for the Lions was the play of their defense, which looked much improved. The free agent spending that the Lions had invested in their offensive line seemed to be paying dividends, and with Matt Stafford continuing to look efficient and reminding the league that he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, the Lions looked like a complete team.

Not only did the Lions win three of their first four games, but they easily could have gone 4–0, as their loss to the Falcons came down to a controversial last-second call by the officials.

Ultimately, however, this impressive start in the first quarter of the season was then immediately marred by a bad game against the Carolina Panthers (where the team started the 4th quarter down 27–10 and failed to mount enough of a comeback), and then a game where the team gave up an astonishing 52 points to the New Orleans Saints on the road in Week 6, indicating some major issues in Detroit.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers also started out 3–1, but the narrative turned around quickly.

The Steelers’ 5th game turned out to be an atrocious 9–30 home loss against none other than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who won only three games all of last season. With Ben Roethlisberger throwing 5 interceptions in the game and Antonio Brown flipping a water cooler, the Steelers’ 3–2 started to look much less impressive.

All of the sudden, it seemed like their Week 1 game against the Browns was much closer than it should have been, that their Week 2 win had more to do with the Vikings’ lack of offense, and that their Week 4 win said much more about how bad the Ravens are than how good the Steelers are.

And after the Steelers suffered such a bad second loss to the Jaguars, their first loss – an on-the-road overtime head-scratcher to the Chicago Bears – started to look much, much worse in hindsight.

But then, coming off of their worst week of the 2017/18 season, with Ben telling reporters “maybe I don’t have it anymore,” the Steelers came out and handed the Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the season in Week 6, and followed this up with a similarly impressive two-score win over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals.

In summary, in the first quarter of this season, it was the Steelers who looked bad and the Lions who looked good. Three weeks later, the opposite seems to be the case.

In this way, both teams have a lot to prove coming into this game, particularly if they hope to repeat as playoff representatives:

  • The Steelers need to come into this game demonstrating that they can limit mistakes in the passing game and effectively run the ball on offense and that their defense deserves to be called top five in the league even when they are facing off against high-powered passing attacks.
  • The Lions need to come into this game demonstrating that their offensive line is sufficient to block against stout defenses and that even though their defense got taken advantage of by Drew Brees, that they can control the game enough to win without a 4th quarter comeback.

But which will it be? We’ve got you covered with all the information you’ll need to make an informed gambling decision for the following bets:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

This first prime-time matchup between two of the league’s oldest teams should certainly be a thriller.

Steelers vs. Lions Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Steelers -150
  • Lions +130

When picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the two teams match up holistically, in order to assign a mental advantage to one team or the other.

In our experience, the team that is able to stay mentally tough for the entire 60-minute contest generally ends up winning the game. When a team stays focused and disciplined, they are able to limit the mental mistakes that cost games and able to handle adversity without turning on each other.

On the other hand, whichever team cracks under the pressure starts to see mental errors pile up. And these aren’t just lapses in judgment: we’re talking about bad balls, dropped passes, blown coverages, missed assignments, miscommunications, penalties, etc.

And when these mistakes pile up, a team gets behind in the down and distance on offense, they lose the battle in the trenches on defense, the time of possession skews towards the other team, they get tired, and the negative spiral continues, ultimately resulting in a loss.

Generally speaking, which team is playing at home impacts which team will have a mental advantage.

In some cases, home field advantage manifests in disruptions caused by travel or by an interruption in practice schedule. In this case, with the Steelers playing the previous week at home and only needing to travel north to Detroit, we don’t foresee either of these factors giving any sort of advantage to the Lions.

The other way that home field advantage manifests is in the way that crowd noise impacts the play of the visiting offense. Young and inexperienced quarterbacks will often get rattled under the bright lights in a hostile environment (obviously not an issue for Ben Roethlisberger), and weak offensive lines will often commit many more mental errors when they are on the road vs. when they are at home.

In this case, with the Steelers’ offensive line one of the most well-coached in the league (under former Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak), we don’t foresee home field advantage impacting the game.

In addition, the Steelers are coming off of two of their sharpest mental performances of the entire season, particularly in the communication and decision-making from Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line. With only one turnover in their last two games (after 6 in the previous two), we don’t foresee the fact that the Steelers are playing in Detroit having any major impact in this game.

For us, the more important mental factor to consider in this game, beyond home field advantage, is the confidence level and the identity of this Detroit Lions team.

Last season, the Lions made their living on fourth-quarter comebacks. Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense actually set an NFL record last year, with an incredible eight of their nine wins coming off of a game-winning drive in the 4th-quarter.

Some people claim that this “comeback mentality” is the strength of the Lions; we’re not so sure.

On the one hand, it’s definitely true that pulling off a 4th-quarter comeback takes a tremendous amount of mental toughness, and near flawless execution. When a team pulls this off repeatedly, it becomes a part of your identity, and this certainly helps in the postseason. Just ask the New England Patriots.

But what seems to be ignored in all of this focus on the comebacks is the fact that the comebacks were necessary in the first place. Looked at in a different way, we see that in 8 of the Lions’ 9 wins last season, the team was behind on the scoreboard at some point in the 4th quarter.

This is a very tenuous situation, one that requires not only mental toughness and flawless execution but also a healthy dose of luck. And so far this season, the Lions’ luck seems to be running thin:

  • The Lions were 3–1 in their first four games, needed a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Cardinals, and failed to successfully pull off their 4th-quarter comeback against the Falcons after the call on the goal line during the last play of the game didn’t go their way.
  • The Lions are 1–3 in their last four games, including two consecutive losses in their last two games where they won the 4th quarter 14–0 (against the Panthers) and 14–7 (against the Saints), and yet still ended up losing the former game by 3 points and the latter game by 14 points.

It’s a very fine line between keeping a game close enough in the first three quarters to leave open the possibility for a fourth-quarter comeback and giving away the first three quarters to such a degree that there’s no chance to come back at all. Meanwhile, Lions fans have to be wishing that they would instead just win all four quarters, and not need to risk a heart attack every single week.

For the Steelers, the biggest mental factor to deal with has been distractions.

The best three players on the Steelers are the three B’s: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. So far this season, we first had a contract holdout from Bell, we next had sideline antics from Brown (who amply demonstrated his immaturity last season by live streaming a locker room meeting), and we then had unnecessary comments from Big Ben, saying “maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

When your three team leaders provide the team a distraction in this way, it detracts on the field.

And when team leaders perform in this way, other members of the team feel that it’s okay to act this way too. This is why we now see Martavis Bryant clamoring in social media that he is better than his teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster and deserves more touches, comments for which he was demoted to the scout offense and declared out for this game against the Lions. These are unnecessary distractions.

And these distractions often manifest most in critical moments of the game, the moments when a team most needs to stay focused and to trust each other, such as on third down and in the red zone.

In our minds, this is clearly one reason why the Steelers have struggled so much in these two areas. Pittsburgh is 3rd-worst in the NFL on the percentage of touchdowns scored in the red zone (42.3% to the league-leading 73.9%), and they rank 26th in the league in red zone touchdowns allowed (62.5% to the league-leading 28.6%).

Meanwhile, their offense is converting only the 24th-most third downs in the league (35.9% to the league-leading 50.5%).

Ultimately, when you put all this together, we think that the Lions are going to put up a good fight. We think that coming off of the bye week, they should hopefully get some key players back from injury, and should come out focused and with some solid preparation in front of the home crowd. Detroit is 5–0 in their last five games coming off of the bye.

However, we believe that the Lions are trending in the wrong direction, and after allowing an average of roughly 40 points per game in two consecutive losses, there will simply be more problems than can be fixed all at once. We like the Steelers to continue to surge, having found, in the depths of their adversity, a ground-and-pound mentality that overcomes their distractions, and tough defense to boot.

Pick: Steelers to win

FootballSpread
  • Steelers -3 (-110)
  • Lions +3 (-110)

Now that we’ve established our pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers to win on the road in this game, as they gain momentum and the Lions continue to go off the rails, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the question of whether the Steelers will win this game by more than 3 points.

In picking games against the spread, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In our experience, when a team is able to stay mentally tough enough to win the game straight-up and able to match up well enough against the opposing defense to score points, they will often win straight-up and win against the spread.

On the other hand, when the losing team matches up well enough on defense to force stops and give the ball back to their offense, they’re often able to pull off a backdoor cover.

In this game, the matchup we’re looking at for the ATS bet is Pittsburgh’s offense vs. Detroit’s D.

After starting out the season looking generally slow and out of sync, the Steelers’ offense hit rock bottom three weeks ago against the suddenly-stout Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense, which intercepted Ben Roethlisberger an incredible five times.

Since then, however, things have turned around dramatically. Since that game against the Jags, Big Ben has three TDs and just one interception. After averaging 6.5 yards per passing attempt in the first five games, Roethlisberger’s average has shot all the way up to 9.7 yards per attempt in the last two games.

The reason for Pittsburgh’s dramatic offensive turnaround is apparent: Le’Veon Bell is back to his old self, and the Steelers are back to their old run-first offensive identity.

In the first five weeks of the season, Le’Veon Bell was held to only 371 yards on only 3.6 yards per carry. It’s possible that, because of his contract holdout, Bell wasn’t really in peak physical and mental condition in the beginning of the season, and that the offense simply wasn’t clicking around him.

All of this has changed over the last two weeks, however. Incredibly, Bell has racked up 313 yards in just two games, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The special back finally seems to be hitting his stride, and the offensive scheme has utilized him to a much greater degree as they try to limit the mistakes from Roethlisberger.

At this point in his career, Big Ben can only be effective if he’s well-protected and limited in attempts.

In the first quarter of the season, Roethlisberger was under pressure too often, and the Steelers were throwing the ball too much. But last week against the Bengals, Pittsburgh’s third divisional game this year, the O-line allowed only 6 pressures all game, and even including these plays Roethlisberger was a remarkably efficient 14 of 24 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 117.4.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense starting to click does not bode well for the Detroit Lions, whose defense has looked very suspect over the last few weeks.

One of the biggest question marks for Detroit over the last few games has been the play of their front seven. Even some of the personnel decisions made by defensive coordinator Teryl Austin seem questionable, such as why defensive end Cornelius Washington was a healthy scratch in the Lions’ last game before the bye week, where they gave up 52 points to the New Orleans Saints.

Washington, who had played somewhere between 39 and 53% of the Lions’ defensive snaps in each of the first games, was equally perplexed after the game when asked about why he was inactive.

Despite not recording a sack so far this season, Washington had clearly been the best at setting the edge in the run game. His absence was undoubtedly one of the major reasons why Detroit was gashed by Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and the Saints’ run game, which took a run D that had allowed more than 87 yards only once this season and gashed it for 193 yards, most of which came on outside runs.

Despite getting Khyri Thornton back from suspension, the Lions are very light on the D-line after the injury to Haloti Ngata, and their star Ziggy Ansah has regressed.

In the last 22 games for the Lions, Ziggy Ansah has six sacks. For a rotational contributor on a defensive line, this would be passable production to merit a spot on a 53-man roster. But for the #5 pick overall in the 2013 draft, who seemed to be on his way to being one of the best pass rushers in the game, it’s not good enough. In the 22 games prior, Ansah had had 14.5 sacks, meaning his production has cut in half.

It’s true that his production was limited last year due to an ankle injury that kept him out of three games and limited his contributions in a few other games, but even still, he needs to be better.

For a team that has built its defensive identity on tough tackling and stout pass rush, the Lions are adrift.

Equally perplexing for the Lions has been the fact that their struggles have come despite the fact that they have led the league in turnovers. With the most interceptions in the league (with 9) and the 3rd-most fumbles recovered (with 5), the Lions are leading the league despite already having missed out on a game because of their bye week. And even still, they’re 5th-worst in the league in scoring.

In the end, we do not like what we’ve seen on tape out of the Lions over the last few weeks. While a fluky, 5-giveaway game like they played against the Saints doesn’t usually happen two games in a row (especially not with a bye week in between), we don’t like the matchup between the Lions’ weak front seven and the Steelers’ solid O-line, and we like the Steelers to score enough points to win ATS.

Pick: Steelers to win by more than 3

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 45 (-110)
  • Under 45 (-110)

Now that we’ve picked this game both straight-up and against the spread, predicting that the Steelers will win by more than three as they ride the hot hand with Le’Veon Bell, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the question of whether we believe this game will be generally high- or low-scoring.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In our experience, when a team is both able to score points on offense and able to match up well enough on defense to consistently generate stops, they will generally be able to control the flow of the game enough that the time of possession skews way towards the winning team, and the total score will stay under.

On the other hand, if the losing team matches up well enough against the winning team’s defense to score points of their own, the game can often become a shootout that pushes the total score over.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the total score bet is Pittsburgh’s defense vs. Detroit’s offense.

The Lions’ offense has sputtered over their two-game losing streak before the bye week, particularly in the run game. In the first quarter of the season, Detroit had averaged 97 rushing yards per game. But against the Panthers, they managed only 50 yards on the ground, and against the Saints – despite scoring 38 points, most of which came in garbage time, they managed only 66 rushing yards.

In addition, the team has become more and more sloppy with the football. After leading the league in turnover ratio in the first four games of the season, they’ve turned the ball over six times over the last two weeks, after having only two in the first quarter of the season.

One of the biggest issues for the Lions’ offense has been injuries.

When the Lions signed Golden Tate to be their #1 receiver, they were hoping that he could fill the void left by the retirement of Calvin Johnson.  Now, with Tate set to miss this game due to a shoulder injury, the Lions are going to need to rely on Marvin Jones Jr., who commands a significant $8 million against the salary cap.

Last year, Jones notched 930 receiving yards, his career high. But he was also averaging only 40.7 yards per game in the first four games and didn’t score a touchdown in the last 10 games (including playoffs).

This year has been more of this same inconsistency. In the first quarter of the season, Jones’ high for receiving yards was 42 yards. In the last two, his production has improved, with 54 yards against the Panthers and 96 yards against New Orleans, and has the team lead in touchdown catches with three.

The Lions are going to need a big game out of Jones if they hope to make up for the absence of Tate.

Golden Tate is a special talent, who leads the league in yards after the catch during the period since he joined the Lions. While no single player can replace him, a big game out of Marvin Jones and strong contributions from rookie Kenny Golladay (back after missing three games with a hamstring injury) and other role players will be necessary if the Lions hope to move the ball in the passing game.

Meanwhile, with the Lions’ offensive line struggling mightily with injuries, we’re not overly confident that they will be able to move the ball in the run game.

Last game against the Saints, before the bye, the Lions were once again without starting left tackle Taylor Decker, who has been on the physically unable to perform list since his shoulder surgery in June. In Decker’s absence, Greg Robinson has started six games and has allowed 24 pressures (Decker allowed only 48 last season, in 16 games).

Greg Robinson also went down during the end of last week’s game, and T. J. Lang missed it entirely.

When Robinson went down, the team was down to its third-string offensive tackle Brian Mihalik, a seventh-round draft pick in his third year who has already been with five teams, this being his first with the Lions. When T. J. Lang was scratched before the game after taking all of the reps in practice, Emmett Cleary took his place, a lineman who had played only one career offensive snap for Detroit.

And it just goes on and on: Right tackle Ricky Wagner missed multiple snaps during the second half after reaggravating an ankle injury, and even Emmett Cleary left the game, replaced by Tim Lelito.

With the astonishing amount of injuries along the offensive line for Detroit, if they don’t get some starters back healthy after the bye week, they’re in trouble.

Meanwhile, if the Steelers are able to take advantage of the lack of a quality offensive line presence in this game to generate pressure, there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to generate turnovers at the same clip that the Saints did last game (with five), as the Pittsburgh secondary has been lights out.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has been improving steadily, and their last two games were solid.

In the first five games of the season, the Steelers gave up an average of 137 rushing yards. Against the Chiefs and the Bengals, they gave up 28 and 71 yards, respectively. And through all seven games, the Steelers’ secondary has been ranked the best in the entire National Football League.

Though it may seem counterintuitive when you compare them to great units like the Legion of Boom, the unit composed of Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Mike Mitchell, (along with contributions from coverage linebackers like Ryan Shazier and T. J. Watt), has been top-ranked both individually and as a unit so far this season.

Ultimately, we believe that the Steelers’ disciplined zone scheme is strong enough to hold even a fully healthy Lions squad to 10 points or less in the first half. We believe that if the Lions get some offensive linemen back healthy, they’ll be able to run a more effective passing offense, though the absence of Golden Tate hurts them.

We predict that the Steelers will have a commanding lead in the first half and that gamblers who take the over will need to sweat it out. But we think the 4th-quarter comeback points from Detroit push the over.

Pick: Lions 21, Steelers 27

FootballProp Bets

Now that we’ve established our overall prediction for the game – that the Steelers win on the road because these two teams are trending in very opposite directions, that the Lions match up poorly in the front seven on defense, and that Detroit will be able to score enough points late in the game to push the over – let’s see if we can’t profit off of this view of the game by investing in some prop bets.

Specifically, we believe that the following wagers will hold value in this game:

  • Le’Veon Bell to go over his posted total for rushing yards. The Steelers have been relying on Bell much more in these past two games, and the fourth-year back seems to have finally gotten back into playing shape after missing the preseason. We like Bell to go off in this game.
  • Matthew Stafford to go under his posted total for passing yards. The Pittsburgh secondary has been lights out these past two weeks. The 2nd-rated defense in net yards allowed per pass attempt going against the 25th-ranked offense means that the Lions will be short on yards.
  • Steelers to have a high first-half winning margin. Knowing as we do that the Lions score a large number of their points in the 4th quarter, invest in a halftime score that heavily favors the Steelers, knowing that even when the final score evens this out, it will come after halftime.

In addition to the three props listed immediately above, which we’ll be able to watch unfold live during the game, we would also direct your attention to the following future bets, which could also hold value:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North. With the Browns being the Browns and the Ravens looking like their franchise may need to be rebooted, the only competition the Steelers will face is the Jaguars. But coming off of a 3-win season, we think the Jags are set to regress.
  • The Detroit Lions to miss the playoffs. The Lions are in a favorable position in the NFC North right now, with Aaron Rodgers potentially out for the season and Case Keenum starting in Minnesota. If the Lions fail because of their defense, the odds will never be better than now.
  • Le’Veon Bell for MVP. With odds currently at +2500, there’s good value in betting Bell. In a wonky year with tons of parity and multiple quarterback injuries, a running back could definitely win the MVP award, particularly if Bell propels the Steelers to 12+ wins and a #1 seed in the AFC.

It’s not enough simply to wager on the outcomes of individual games and watch to see if you were right or wrong. In addition, it’s important to use your opportunities watching live game film in order to gather information for any and all future bets that you might want to make down the line.

Keep a weathered eye out for any clues that might tip you off for the bets above, and thank us later.

Summary: Best Bets

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions are two of the oldest teams in the league. And yet somehow, with matchups going back all the way to 1934, they’ve never met in prime-time. This historic first evening matchup should teach us a lot about these two teams, tending in such opposite directions.

We believe that the Steelers will win this game on the road because of how solid their identity has become over the last two wins. We believe that Pittsburgh will once again rely on pounding the ball with Le’Veon Bell and that Detroit will be unable to move the ball against the disciplined zone scheme of the Steelers.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are our best bets:

  • Steelers -150 moneyline
  • Steelers -3 against the spread (-110)
  • The total score to go over 45 (-110)
  • Le’Veon Bell to go over his posted total for rushing yards
  • Matthew Stafford to go under his posted total for passing yards
  • Steelers to have a high first-half winning margin

If this game had been played three weeks ago, the narrative would have been that the Steelers didn’t have it anymore and that the Lions were a potential Super Bowl team. Now? Exactly the opposite. It’s amazing how quickly things change in the National Football League, and we believe that these two teams will continue to ride the wave of these changes on Sunday Night Football in Week 8.

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