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NFL Handicapping: Steelers respond, concerns continue for Buccaneers and Panthers

10.03.2016     12:54 PM     ICC     Printer Friendly

Submitted by ICC blog entry.
For this week’s article, I will be discussing a trio of teams that suffered bad Week 3 losses and whether their response in Week 4 was a positive sign moving forward or a warning sign of further problems.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of a handful teams pegged for improvement by both the media and bettors during the preseason. After winning six games in 2015, Tampa was bet up from 7 to 7.5 wins in the futures market. And Week 1’s road win against Atlanta only strengthened that opinion. But since then, it’s been a disaster. After getting blown out in Week 2 at Arizona, the Bucs returned home to face Los Angeles in what was an optimal spot for a big effort. Instead, they coughed up 37 points in a loss. Amazingly, Tampa outgained the Rams by over 150 yards, had 12 more first downs, and were even in the turnover battle and still found a way to lose.

Fast forward to to this past weekend and instead of laying -5, Tampa was +3 home underdogs to Denver. Again, it was another situation that suggested a solid effort. But the Broncos dominated from start to finish as Jameis Winston threw two interceptions and posted a dreadful 40.1 QB rating. Winston has now thrown seven picks in his last three games. Part of Winston’s struggles can be tied to the Week 2 injury to running back Doug Martin. In Martin’s absence, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for just 53 yards on 21 carries in last week’s loss.

The defense has also underwhelmed; ranked in the middle of the pack in yards per game and per play allowed and 30th in opponent QB rating (106.5). Red flag abound as Denver was forced to play rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch after Trevor Siemian left due to injury late in the second half. Despite having a comfortable lead, the Broncos smelled blood in the water and allowed Lynch to be aggressive in the passing game. He finished 14-of-24 for 170 yards and a touchdown in a little over a half of work. Again, major concerns for Tampa’s secondary moving forward. On the heels of a 1-3 SU/ATS slide, Tampa must now travel to Carolina for a Monday Night Football matchup.

Speaking of struggles, Carolina finds itself 1-3 SU/ATS with a lone win and cover against bottom feeder San Francisco. The secondary simply hasn’t been the same after the Panthers took a pass on resigning Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman. They felt his absence in a big way against Atlanta on Sunday after Matt Ryan torched the Carolina pass defense for 503 passing yards and four touchdowns passes; 300 of those yards courtesy of Julio Jones. Cam Newton has been under constant pressure and connecting on only 56% of his passes. Newton ended up leaving the game with concussion symptoms from a hit he took at the goal line and his currently questionable for Monday’s game. Carolina is now 21st in yards per play differential (-0.3) which is not what most would expect from a team that went to the Super Bowl last year. But one of last year’s few (but important) flaws was a questionable strength of schedule. This year’s slate has been far more challenging. Atlanta, Minnesota, and Denver -- Carolina’s three losses -- are a combined 10-1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered the single worst defeat in Week 3 -- a 34-3 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. But unlike Tampa Bay and Carolina, the Steelers responded in a big way. Despite significant anti-Pittsburgh money (line closed -3), they rolled over the Chiefs 43-14. Pittsburgh was littered with cluster injuries on defense, specifically at linebacker and in the secondary, but managed to completely dominate Kansas City’s offense. Running back Le’Veon Bell’s return was beyond impactful. Bell tallied 144 rushing yards on only 18 carries. That allowed Ben Roethlisberger to have a field day with 300 yards, five touchdowns, and a near perfect QB rating of 152.5. As a side note, Kansas City’s defense has been torched in the passing game this season. San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger combined to complete 74% of their passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Part of the problem has been the lack of a consistent pass rush; hindered by the loss of Justin Houston who has yet to play a game this season following ACL surgery.

Pittsburgh is now 9-3 ATS in the last 2+ seasons off a loss under head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers showed everyone last night that despite the injuries on defense, the loss to the Eagles wasn’t anything to panic over. And after Sunday’s market “fade” backfired, it looks as if Pittsburgh is back in the good graces of bettors with the line for Sunday’s home game against the New York Jets climbing from -7 to -7.5 at most offshore sportsbooks.

Tags: NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carolina Panthers Pittsburgh Steelers Ian Cameron

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