Do you like low-scoring football games? Then the Week 5 tilt between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers might be the game for you!
The Broncos just put up seven points in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens and lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a concussion. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense have been a train wreck through the first four weeks.
Will these teams right the ship offensively? Or are we in store for another defensive battle? Let’s break down this AFC showdown:
- Opening line: Steelers -1.5
- Current line: Steelers -1
- Total: 39.5
Broncos look to bounce back with healthy Bridgewater
Last week’s game went downhill the second Bridgewater left the game with a concussion. The erratic Drew Lock entered in Bridgewater’s absence, and a previously efficient Broncos offense struggled to move the ball. The Broncos finished with 15 first downs and 254 total yards.
The good news? Bridgewater is expected to practice Thursday, which gives him at least a decent chance of suiting up Sunday.
However, Denver’s offense struggled even with Teddy B in the game. Baltimore’s aggressive pass rush made it hard for either quarterback to get comfortable. Bridgewater and Lock were hit a combined 11 times and were sacked on five of those plays. Denver’s offensive line has now allowed five sacks on the season, and things won’t get any easier against a Pittsburgh defense that’s generated pressure on nearly 30% of their opponents’ dropbacks this season.
What I was more interested to see was how Denver’s defense would perform in easily its biggest test of the season. While the Broncos did a nice job containing Baltimore’s running game, the secondary allowed Lamar Jackson to put up his third 300-yard passing performance of his career. Despite the disappointing performance, the Broncos still rank 7th in DVOA and should have better luck against a Steelers offense that just can’t get things going.
Speaking of which…
Steelers offense remains a disaster
This is what happens when you hang on for too long. I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim that Ben Roethlisberger is finished. He’s inefficient, he can’t push the ball downfield and he literally can’t move in the pocket. The old days of Big Ben shrugging off would-be tacklers and making spectacular throws downfield are over. Now, he’s just a check-down specialist.
To make matters even worse, Pittsburgh’s offensive line is in shambles. The Steelers have allowed 10 sacks this year and have failed to get much of a push in the run game. The Steelers rank 25th in offensive DVOA, 23rd in passing DVOA, and 26th in rushing DVOA. Pittsburgh is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry despite having a potential stud running back in rookie Najee Harris.
But it’s okay, Pittsburgh still has a strong defense, right? Well, not exactly. The Steelers rank 22nd in defensive DVOA and just 23rd in passing DVOA. Where the Steelers have been strong is against the run, where they rank seventh in DVOA and allow just 3.7 net yards per rush attempt. That sets up well against a Broncos offense that prefers to control games on the ground.
This is a difficult game to assess from a betting perspective. I can’t recommend backing Roethlisberger and the Steelers right now. But Denver’s uncertain quarterback situation gives me cause for pause from taking the short road underdog.
So, let’s turn our attention to the total, where I find more of a betting opportunity. As I stated in the intro, this game has defensive struggle written all over it. Denver’s offense could be even more conservative if Bridgewater’s out, and Pittsburgh’s defense should continue to improve now that the unit is closer to full strength. On the other side, I’m expecting a big day from Von Miller against a subpar Steelers offensive line. Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles will likely continue against a fully motivated Broncos defense coming off a lackluster effort.
While this isn’t my favorite play of the week, I feel comfortable recommending the under 39.5 points. If I had to play the spread, I’d take Denver.
The pick: Under 39.5 points
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