NFL against the spread picks: Steelers should feel some early urgency

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24171/" data-ylk="slk:Antonio Brown">Antonio Brown</a> and the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/pit" data-ylk="slk:Steelers">Steelers</a> are coming off a Week 1 tie against the Browns. (AP)
Antonio Brown and the Steelers are coming off a Week 1 tie against the Browns. (AP)

It’s weird to think of a Week 2 game as must-win, but we also know the history of 0-2 teams making the NFL playoffs.

According to OddsShark, since 2007 there have been 92 teams to start 0-2, and only 10 have made the playoffs. That’s 10.9 percent. Last year nine teams started 0-2 and only the New Orleans Saints made the playoffs.

While we have no recent data on 0-0-1 teams making the playoffs, considering the last Week 1 tie was 1971, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t in the same position as the 15 0-1 teams around the NFL. But it seems like they should have at least as much urgency this week.

The Steelers are already deep in their typical drama thanks to Le’Veon Bell’s holdout. The tie against the Cleveland Browns last week was a tough one, blowing a 21-7 lead with less than eight minutes left and missing a field goal in overtime. Only a blocked field goal at the end saved half of a win. A home loss on Sunday would tighten the screws for a team with Super Bowl hopes.

The Chiefs are coming off a great Week 1. They looked very sharp against the Los Angeles Chargers. The offense is going to be really fun, and if you had to pick right now, you’d say this is the best team in the AFC West. Still, it’s a team that hasn’t answered all its defensive questions, and while Patrick Mahomes is really fun, he’ll have his rough patches.

There’s also an interesting trend working against the Chiefs. I’ve heard this stat a few times this week, including on Gill Alexander’s “Beating the Book” podcast: Since 2015, teams that start the season with two road games are 0-12 against the spread in Week 2 on the road. That’s not a huge sample, but it’s tough to ignore. The Chiefs, Texans and Seahawks are all in that spot this week.

A lot of things point to the Steelers playing very well. They can’t be happy after last week, although they didn’t play that bad last week aside from turning the ball over too often. The Steelers always play better at home. The Chiefs have the odd travel schedule of playing in Los Angeles in Week 1, then all the way to the Eastern time zone in Week 2.

I like the Steelers to win convincingly. The line is minus-4 in the SuperContest and minus-5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em, and I’ll take the Steelers in both. And if they don’t win there will be some panic in Pittsburgh, even if it would be an 0-1-1 start and not 0-2.

SUPERCONTEST

Packers (+7) over Vikings: Here’s a weird situation for the SuperContest: Because the lines come out Wednesday, the Packers were posted as a 7-point underdog. That’s obviously due to the Aaron Rodgers injury situation. Since I assume Rodgers will play — Mike McCarthy said Friday he’s feeling better — I’ll just take the weird line and move on, unless there’s late-breaking news Friday that Rodgers is out. (The game is a pick ’em in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em, and I’ll take the Vikings on that line.)

Titans (pick’em) over Texans: I’m going to be stubborn about the Titans. I thought they could be a good team this season (I thought that last season too and despite the playoff berth, they really weren’t that great), and I’ll stick it out one more week. A key theme to the picks this week is to not overreact to Week 1. (The line on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em is off because of Marcus Mariota’s status, though I assume he’ll play.)

Saints (-8.5) over Browns: Before we get too excited about the Browns’ tie, it’s worth repeating they were plus-five in turnover margin and still couldn’t win the game. The Saints will be angry and focused. We know they’ll put up points. If they can’t slow down the Browns’ offense, we know something is wrong in New Orleans. (The line is -10 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)

Bears (-3.5) over Seahawks: The Seahawks are so desperate on defense, they’re signing Mychal Kendricks and hoping to get about three months out of him before he’s sentenced for insider trading in December. Seriously. The Doug Baldwin injury is a big one for their offense. You have to wonder if the Bears can shake off such a bad Week 1 loss, but it’s early in the season and I think Matt Nagy will let his team know that if it plays like it did at Green Bay the rest of the season, they’ll win a lot of games. (The line is -3 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)

And here are the rest of the Week 2 picks …

Ravens (-1) over Bengals (picked Thursday): The Ravens came out flat and it really cost them. Maybe the Bengals are pretty good?

Panthers (+6) over Falcons: After Devonta Freeman was ruled out and some more consideration, I changed to the Panthers and made them a SuperContest pick (removing the Titans given the weirdness surrounding Marcus Mariota’s injury status).

Bills (+8.5) over Chargers: It would be just like the NFL for the Bills to win here after everyone has laughed at them for a week. I don’t know exactly how they can keep it close in Josh Allen’s first start, but I do know the Chargers didn’t look good last week either and now they’re in the tough “West Coast team in a 10 a.m. Pacific time start” situation.

Dolphins (+2.5) over Jets: We’ll see if the Jets are a powerhouse again without knowing the opponent’s hand signals. According to OddsShark, this line and the Saints-Browns line were the two that moved the most from the opening line, based on Week 1 overreaction. Going against every Week 1 overreaction won’t end up with a winning pick. I just want to see it twice from the Jets before I believe.

Eagles (-3) over Buccaneers: The Eagles’ defense is fierce. Even if Nick Foles doesn’t play well again — and the thing about a super-streaky quarterback like Foles is there’s always the possibility he has a monster game — I don’t think Ryan Fitzpatrick is repeating the Fitzmagic against a defense this good.

Colts (+6) over Redskins: One rather surprising result from Week 1 that I am buying into is Washington being pretty good. They’ve been an overlooked team all summer and you could see their upside in a truly dominant win over the Cardinals. Still, the line seems a little too large. I don’t love the Colts this season, but after watching the Bengals play well on Thursday night, maybe the Colts’ Week 1 loss to them wasn’t too bad.

Cardinals (+13.5) over Rams: Unless you’re going to bet all favorites in the NFL, you’re going to have to take some sides you don’t feel great about. Here’s the hope for the Cardinals: They’re not as bad as they looked in Week 1 (if they are, they’re going to finish about 3-13 because they looked truly awful), and the Rams played the late game on Monday night. But yeah, it’s not comforting taking the Cardinals after last week.

49ers (-5.5) over Lions: On further review, the 49ers played better than I thought last week. They were right in that game against the Vikings if they could have just made a couple plays that were very close, hadn’t fumbled near the goal line and a miscommunication hadn’t turned into a pick-six. On the other side, it’s tough to look at the grumbling about Matt Patricia already as any kind of a positive. Even though I think the line seems a little inflated based on how bad the Lions played Monday night, I still don’t like what I’m seeing out of the Lions. It’s one of the few picks where I’m going with the Week 1 overreaction.

Broncos (-5.5) over Raiders: The Broncos were one of the Week 1 teams I thought played much better than their final score would indicate. Perhaps Case Keenum will keep throwing interceptions, but I’ll assume that won’t happen. I’m not sure the Raiders are the defense that could force those turnovers, anyway.

Jaguars (+1) over Patriots: It’s a little scary taking Jacksonville without knowing Leonard Fournette’s status, but I thought Jacksonville’s defense looked outstanding last week. Against a Patriots offense that’s banged up, at home, I think the Jaguars can pull off the win.

Giants (+3) over Cowboys: I’m not liking either team, so I’ll just take the points.

Last week: 8-7-1
Season to date: 8-8-1
SuperContest: 2-2-1 last week

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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