NFL Season Win Total
Pittsburgh under 8½ +134

Posted September 7, 2023 Prior to Week 1. Odds subject to change.

Pinnacle u8½ +134  BET365 u8½ +120 Sportsinteraction u8½ +119 888Sport u8½ +120

Pittsburgh under 8½ wins +120

It absolutely looked like the Steelers were dead to rights last season. Unimpressed by their 9-7-1 record while being outscored by 55 points in 2021, it appeared that 2022 would be a transitional season with rookie Kenny Pickett taking over as quarterback. Concerning that the Steelers couldn't get any more out of their big three on defense, T.J. Watt went down in the opener with a torn pectoral muscle, and suddenly those concerns felt justified. At their bye, they were 2-6. It felt like a lost season.

Then the universe remembered who stands on the sideline for the Steelers. Mike Tomlin hadn't posted a losing record in 15 seasons as a head coach, and he wasn't about to start now. They split their first two games after the bye and then got white-hot afterward, winning six of their final seven games. They still came up a half-win short of their total from 2021, but they came as close as possible to defying the numbers. How did Pittsburgh turn things around? It got Watt back, which helped immensely. Its schedule got easier, as six of its seven wins during the second half came against teams with losing records. The only exception was a Week 17 victory over the rival Ravens, who were starting Tyler Huntley at quarterback for the injured Lamar Jackson.

The biggest factor, though, was something that holds concern for the Steelers and something we often discuss….pure luck. Before the bye, they turned the ball over 14 times in eight games. After the bye? Pickett & Co. yielded five giveaways in nine games, three of which came in a Week 14 loss to the Ravens. They turned the ball over twice across their other eight games in the second half, and unsurprisingly, they won seven of those eight. It's impossible to count on any team to turn the ball over as infrequently as the Steelers did during that stretch over a full season.

This year, there is palpable hype surrounding the Steelers, as second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was the only quarterback chosen in the first round of his draft class, has seemingly made meaningful strides as a starting pivot. This observation from the media has come mostly from a preseason that saw the Steelers shut out the Falcons in Week 3 of the preseason. In the preseason game prior to that, there was much hype about the Buffalo starters getting time to do their work, however, the Steelers won that game outright, 27-15. Kenny Pickett has looked very good in the preseason but that’s not real time and while the improvements may be great we are rarely buying what the media is trying to sell.

We're going to stick with Pickett, as the starting quarterback is always going to get the lion's share of the attention. Pickett's rookie season was full of ups and downs, as one might expect, but he never quite looked like the new-age field general as billed after five years as a starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers of the NCAA. Instead, Pickett's bread and butter was his ability to make short, accurate throws, and if those weren't there, he would scramble to make something happen but don't take our word for it; Pickett's Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), a metric you'll see often in this space, is used to measure the efficiency of football teams, in terms of both their offense and defense. It can also be used to measure the efficiency of individual players or units, such as offensive or defensive lines and special teams. As for Pickett, his DVOA statistics from 2022 reflect what he does well and what he does not do well.

Out of 34 qualifying starting quarterbacks in 2022, Pickett ranked 19th in DVOA in short throws up to nine yards. That said, it was all downhill over 10 yards or more, as he was second to last in medium-range passing (10-19 yards), where he was often a half-step off when it came to his decision-making, specifically when trying to hit his receivers over the middle. Because he doesn't have a "big" arm, Pickett struggles with his ability to make up for being "late," unlike those quarterbacks with cannon arms who are able to.

With his inability to throw deep, Pickett had to rely on his legs to extend plays, and that is illustrated by his ranking fourth in plays that took place outside of the pocket. The Steelers did not game plan for this, and it was Pickett’s intuition that led him to take off and try to make it happen. When pressured, Pickett ranked seventh in DVOA, but that is a stat that is impacted by many factors, and it’s one that can be incredibly inconsistent, as personnel changes around the young quarterback.

As for 2023, the Steelers have been pegged to win around nine games, but that is under the pretense that does not factor in outside variables like injuries, bad bounces, poor or normal luck, and many other unknowns that one cannot predict. That includes the “in-game” variances that take place every week as well. On the surface, the scheduling gods appear to have had mercy on Pittsburgh, as they come into this season with the 25th most difficult schedule in the league based on winning percentage over last season where their opponents racked up W’s at just a .470 clip. That said, that perception is based on last year’s teams who had last year’s players, and none of those things are the same.

On paper, the defense looks shaky, which is strange for a Steelers team under Tomlin. Cornerback is suddenly a problem, as Cameron Sutton and Arthur Maulet left in free agency and were replaced by the ex-Vikings duo of Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan. We’re not sure about their fit in a scheme that played man at the sixth-highest rate last season, and it's a lot to ask of rookie second-rounder Joey Porter Jr. to be ready for a big role in Week 1. Even given the presence of Minkah Fitzpatrick, they probably won't lead the league in interception rate again. Watt should play something closer to a full season, which will help a sack and pressure rate that folded in his absence. Is the rest of the team around him likely to be healthier? Probably not, given that Pittsburgh had the league's healthiest roster by adjusted games lost. You would probably rather lose two or three lesser starters than be without the star edge rusher for any length of time, but the Steelers don't have the sort of depth they've had in years past.

When looking at the Steelers' slate in 2023, they play five games before seeing their Week 6 bye. Those contests include the 49ers and Browns at home in Week 1 and 2, respectively, before they head out for two straight road games at Las Vegas and Houston before returning home to face the Ravens in Week 5. How many wins do you see there, and before you just assume that trip to H-Town is going to be a cakewalk, notice where it is located—sandwiched between a trip to Vegas and a home game with Baltimore. Week 4 has trap written all over it.

After the bye, the Steelers will play three out of four games at home, with their only trip outside the Steel City being to L.A. to face the Rams before returning to play the Jaguars, Titans, and Packers at home. To close out the season, the Steelers will play six of their last nine games on the road to end the season. That includes potentially cold weather games in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, with a stop on what could be a miserable December day in Seattle to close out 2023, literally, with a date on New Year's Eve. There is legit excitement that the local boy, Pickett, can keep the good times rolling. Perhaps he can, but A LOT is going to have to go right for Pickett for that to happen. There are definite paths to the Steelers winning 9 games, especially if Pickett takes a second-year leap. However, if he doesn’t take that leap, if the defense loses one of the big three or the team struggles to stay as healthy as it did and/or the offense stops protecting the ball, don’t bet on the Steelers to keep Tomlin's streak going into season 17. We’re going to put that to the test here.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------



Our Pick

Pittsburgh under 8½ +134 (Risking 3 units - To Win: 4.02)

Tampa Bay +5 -101 over Philadelphia
Carolina +4½ -103 over Seattle
Detroit -3 -113 over Atlanta
Denver +215 over Miami
Dallas/Arizona under 43½ -110
Cleveland -3½ +100 over Tennessee
Green Bay -1 -110 over New Orleans
Chicago +12½ -110 over Kansas City
Pittsburgh +2½ +112 over Las Vegas
Early leans & analysis Wk 3 over