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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 12:00 PM

If you’re like many in the sports betting world, you were a bit shocked when the Pittsburgh Steelers opened as -6.5 favorites over the Denver Broncos this week. Sure, Pittsburgh was playing well lately. And, Denver did struggle in that home loss to Oakland last week. But…Denver is 10-3 while Pittsburgh is 8-5! Denver just beat New England for goodness sake. How can Pittsburgh be favored by THAT much over Denver?

I need to be careful because I may be posting a big release in this game Sunday morning. But, we can work through the process in a way that’s educational, while protecting my clients.

First, why is Pittsburgh laying so much?

*They’re playing great lately

*Their offense in particular is lighting up the scoreboard

*They’ve been doing this in high profile TV games

*Denver struggled in a home loss to Oakland last week

*Denver’s offense in particular has struggled badly all season

It’s that combination that really ignited this pointspread “inflation.” Over the last five weeks, Pittsburgh has scored 33, 35, 30, 30, and 38 points in high profile matchups that many bettors watched avidly. How can Denver get within seven points of that with Brock Osweiler stumbling around in the offense? Even when Osweiler won on the road in San Diego 17-3 two weeks ago, the Broncos only scored 10 offensive points (and seven more on an interception return TD).

Oddsmakers have to deal with those offensive numbers, and the tendency for bettors to fall in love with teams that are doing well on TV.

In terms of the handicapping approach we use here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping, Pittsburgh looks to be in much better shape in the area of PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS. And, they might even get the nod in MOTIVATION FACTOR because they’re in a very tight race for an AFC playoff berth where any loss could be fatal. Denver can relax knowing that the AFC West is theirs, and a top two seed is within reach even if they lose to Pittsburgh because of the injury to Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

To this point in the discussion, it feels like Pittsburgh is going to win in a rout. Maybe they will! What are we leaving out?

*Pittsburgh just ran up the score on a lousy Indianapolis team, and a Cincinnati Bengals squad that suffered a huge injury in the first quarter. Maybe Pittsburgh is just great at running up victory margins on bad or shellshocked teams.

*Denver’s defense is amazing. The Broncos have PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS on defense that are leading them into the playoffs. This isn’t Peyton Manning’s team any more. He was an anvil holding them back when he was healthy. (Osweiler hasn’t really hurt them all that much because Manning was already bad). Remember that Osweiler beat New England! The fact that Pittsburgh is making big plays seemingly on command lately may not mean anything against the intense pressure they’ll be facing from Denver this week.

*Denver’s “shorten the game” style is actually ideal for disrupting explosive favorites. It runs clock, while grinding out yardage and field goal attempts. The favored opponent never gets any rhythm. We’ve seen it time and time again, particularly in “playoff style” matchups. Defense wins championships, and Denver has a championship caliber defense.

To me, the two most important issues in this game are:

*Can Denver’s defense get pressure on Roethlisberger?

*Can Osweiler move the chains enough to run clock and get some points on the board?

Answer those with a YES, and Denver can steal a win outright. Answer those with a NO, and maybe Pittsburgh wins 30-13 on Sunday. A Vegas line near a touchdown splits the difference of the extremes.

What about the total? YES to defensive pressure from Denver but NO to success from Osweiler sets up an Under. NO to defensive pressure probably drives an Over because Pittsburgh is almost able to take games Over all by themselves when things are clicking.

Your homework this weekend is to DEFINITELY watch Denver/Pittsburgh on TV with an eye on the keys that we’ve discussed today. I would also advise extensive study in Carolina/NY Giants in the early session, Green Bay/Oakland in the late session, and Arizona/Philadelphia in the prime time game on NBC. Watch them live of DVR them. What you see in those matchups will surely help you pick winners in the playoffs next month.

If you do-it-yourselfers would like some help finding smart plays this weekend, KELSO STURGEON’S best bets can always be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters’ office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure you check on my great combination package that includes college bowls through the National Championship and the NFL through the Super Bowl.

Back with you early next week with more coursework. Most likely, I’ll have a “read and react” report to Day One of the College Bowls. Typically, what happens on that first big Saturday foreshadows later developments. We must pay close attention to that first day!

Thanks for your attendance. See you again soon.


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Kelso Sturgeon on twitter @vsm_sturgeon

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