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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 2:10 PM

A big year was anticipated for the Pittsburgh Steelers and they haven't disappointed their supporters. Pittsburgh has two wins over playoff teams from last year, starting with a 38-16 win over the Redskins as a (-2.5) road favorite. The Steelers were considered a basically even team with the Bengals and installed as a three-point home favorite last Sunday. Pittsburgh won and covered, 24-16, controlling the game throughout.

The market has reacted and a team already held in high regard is now a short 7-1 price to win the Super Bowl, trailing only New England in Vegas esteem. Just as notable is that within a very competitive division, Pittsburgh is not only the favorite, but a huge favorite.

The Steelers are now 5-8 to win the AFC North. Cincinnati, who won the division a year ago, has been a playoff perennial of late and a team whose regular season chops can't be doubted, is down to 4-1. Baltimore, off to a 2-0 start of their own and strong pedigree from 2008-14 until a hiccup last year, is available at 3-1.

When the market and the public fall in love with a team, smart pro football bettors know it's time to at least consider going contrarian. So are the Steelers really this good?

Any negative view would have to be focused on the defense. The Steelers have some nice names—William Gay at corner, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier at linebacker, Cameron Heyward and James Harrison on the edge. And while they're all playing respectable football, no one is jumping off the film. Winning big games often requires game-changing plays on defense and it's fair to wonder where those are coming from with Pittsburgh.

But on the flip side, there's actually reason to think Pittsburgh can play even better. Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been at his best yet this season, a little too mistake-prone and thus far unable to really get any receivers besides Antonio Brown going. On the offensive line, center Maurkice Pouncey is not playing well, but after missing all of last season it's very reasonable to expect him to improve as the year wears on.

Thus we have a team, that while far from perfect, is playing very well right now and has the capacity to get better. On the futures market, there's little value in investing with the Steelers at this point given the short prices, but not a lot of reason to challenge them either.

The question will be on a week-to-week basis as handicappers ask themselves how many points Pittsburgh can give before a tipping point is reached. Already, they're a (-3.5) road favorite against the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday. Is that too many points or is Pittsburgh still poised to keep rolling? How about coming games against the Chiefs and Jets that stand between now and a big October 23 showdown with the Patriots? Where does the right number lie? Well...the ultimate answer to that question is one we have to reserve for clients.

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