The public “is betting Pittsburgh like it’s going out of style,” according to an industry insider, and shows no hesitation about laying 8 to 9 points on the road.
Before you join the stampede, consider this:
The last five non-winning teams to make the playoffs went 5-0 against the spread and 4-1 straight up on wild card weekend. Seattle extended the streak with last year’s 41-36 win over New Orleans as a 9.5-point home dog.
Going back further, non-winning teams are 7-3 ATS in the opening round.
Denver (8-8) certainly looks like a team worth fading. The Broncos won the AFC West despite losing their last three games. Tim Tebow completed 19 of his last 51 throws (37 percent), with one touchdown and four interceptions.
But the Steelers fly west a battered bunch. Not only did they lose starting RB Rashard Mendenhall to a torn ACL Sunday, CBs Keenan Lewis (hamstring) and Cortez Allen (separated shoulder) went down, leaving three healthy corners.
Starting safety Ryan Clark will not play due to the high altitude in Denver, where his sickle cell trait caused a violent reaction in 2007 that almost killed him. He lost his spleen and gall bladder after exerting himself in the mile-high air.
Ben Roethlisberger is wearing an ankle brace and has limited mobility.
Against that backdrop, let’s look at how the last five non-winners to make the postseason fared:
2011 Seattle Seahawks (7-9, NFC West champs)
New Orleans at Seattle (9.5)
Final -- Seahawks 41, Saints 36: Matt Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns as Saints safety Roman Harper kept letting wideouts get behind him. Marshawn Lynch popularized “Beast Mode,” ripping off a 67-yard TD run in which he bounced off and ran through tacklers.
2008 San Diego Chargers (8-8, AFC West champs)
Indianapolis at San Diego (1.5)
Final – Chargers 23, Colts 17 (OT): The Colts came in on a nine-game win streak with the newly crowned MVP. They could have run out the clock, but Peyton Manning got sacked on 3rd-and-2 and the Chargers drove for the tying field goal. In overtime, Darren Sproles (150 total yards) scooted 22 yards for the game-winner. San Diego’s Mike Scifres pinned the Colts deep repeatedly, averaging 52.7 yards on six punts.
2006 New York Giants (8-8, wild card)
New York at Philadelphia (-6.5)
Final – Eagles 23, Giants 20: Tiki Barber helped New York cover by running for 137 yards in his final game. It was 20-20 after Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress for an 11-yard score with 5:04 left. But Jeff Garcia, subbing for the injured Donovan McNabb, guided Philly to its sixth straight win. He engineered the game-winning drive David Akers capped with a 38-yard field goal.
2004 Minnesota Vikings (8-8, wild card)
Minnesota at Green Bay (-6.5)
Final – Vikings 31, Packers 17: One week after walking off the field early, Randy Moss caught two of Daunte Culpepper’s four TD passes. Brett Favre threw four interceptions and the Vikes ended a nine-game losing streak in games played outdoors. It was an embarrassing day for the Packers: Minnesota entered on a 3-7 skid, the worst record over the final 10 regular-season games of any team in the 72-year history of the NFL playoffs.
Fact: Favre said afterward he wasn’t going to let the loss play a role in whether to retire or return for a 15th season. If only the drama had ended there…
2004 St. Louis Rams (8-8, wild card)
St. Louis at Seattle (-3.5)
Final – Rams 27, Seahawks 20: Marc Bulger threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, including the decisive 17-yarder to Cam Cleeland with 2:11 left. The Rams, who completed a three-game sweep of the Seahawks, had to sweat as Seattle moved to their 5-yard line in the final seconds. But Bobby Engram dropped Matt Hasselbeck’s 4th-down pass in the end zone.
Thus St. Louis became the first non-winning team to advance in the playoffs.
Will the Broncos continue the trend? The public doesn’t think so.
“The public is betting Pittsburgh like it’s going out of style and has no reservations laying the stiff price on the road,” Todd Fuhrman, senior race and sports analyst for Caesars Entertainment, told Covers.com.
Caesars was holding the line at 8 on Tuesday because it has taken mostly public money, and no max plays from professionals.
Other books have Pittsburgh laying 8.5 or 9.
Covers Expert David Malinsky offered this take on non-winning teams in the playoffs.
“There does appear to be some value because no one seems to want them. When you combine a team having had a bad season, and going up against an opponent with much more playoff experience, which was the Seattle setting last year and Denver this time around, then the oddsmakers really do have to make adjustments to find anyone that will back a bad team,” he said.
“It is most rare to ever find a home underdog of more than a TD in a playoff game, and that is what they are doing this week. And given the offensive struggles of the Broncos down the stretch, the public will be even less inclined to back them. So by the end of the week, there will be some general pointspread value to Denver. The question will be whether the particular matchups can be trusted to put it into play.”
Total of 60 coming?
The 58.5 total for Lions-Saints -- higher than oddsmakers can recall for any NFL game, playoffs or regular season – got me to wondering:
Would Saints-Packers in the NFC title game eclipse that? How about Saints-Pats or Packers-Pats in the Super Bowl?
Saints-Packers would be outdoors in the cold, but the Super Bowl will be indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy.
“I don’t think we’ll see a total north of 60 even if you pair the Saints or Packers with the Pats, but that’s subject to change,” Fuhrman said, noting that Caesars’ current total for the Super Bowl is just 52.
“Saints-Packers in optimal conditions would be right in this same [58.5] range, but given the cold, blustery conditions we’d probably see in Lambeau, I’d be hard-pressed to use a 58, especially considering the Saints aren’t quite as explosive outside late in the year,” he added.
“However, for an NFC championship game, it wouldn't shock me if we had to go back into the high 50's to attract under money on the game.”
Red-hot New Orleans is drawing lots of cash from the public, Fuhrman said.
Caesars moved Lions-Saints half a point to 11 “and at this point the next key number to hit would be 13 if the support begins to overwhelm us,” he said.
“The main surprise so far is we’re seeing good two-way action on sides in two of the games,” Furhman continued, referring to Bengals-Texans and Falcons-Giants. “We already know we’ll need the Lions and Broncos since the Saints and Steelers appear to be the early public favorites.”
Sharp money slashed the Falcons-Giants total all the way from 49 to 47.5, and the Steelers-Broncos total from 35 to 34.5.
“We came off key numbers early in both situations,” Fuhrman said.