Hello, Bolts From the Blue!
The final week of the regular season kicks off with a very interesting pair of Saturday games between division rivals. The first game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens could see Mike Tomlin’s men put themselves in a good position to earn a wildcard playoff spot. The primetime slot sees a huge battle between the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts for what could be decider in the AFC South division title race. There are so many playoff qualifying and seeding scenarios still on the table to these teams but playing a day early means they get to just play football and put pressure on the other sides vying for post season opportunities.
To get started we have a game between a side desperately fighting for a win to put them in pole position to get a wildcard spot, and another team who have not only secured the AFC North division title but have sewn up the number one seed with a week to spare. This context has many implications on how this game will play out. DraftKings Sportsbook have the Steelers as 4-point favorites which dictates that they expect the Ravens to play their backups which would make sense to a lot of coaches however John Harbaugh has not yet committed to whether or not he will sit his star players. There is a fierce rivalry between these two teams and the pride that comes with these games and the opportunity to deny your rivals a shot at the Lombardi trophy is tempting. I suspect that Harbaugh will restrain himself to a degree and take big name players like Lamar Jackson off the gameday roster but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to win this game with one of the deepest rosters in the league. Tyler Huntley is one of the more capable backup quarterbacks in the league, he was even (somehow) elected to the Pro Bowl in 2022.
On the other side of the field Mike Tomlin has once again, somehow, managed to conjure up yet another winning season despite having a feeble excuse of an offense for large parts of it. Mason Rudolph has taken over as starter from Kenny Pickett despite the sophomore quarterback now being healthy. This is a bold call and one rooted in a ‘play the hot hand’ philosophy however this is a mistake in my eyes as Rudolph has shown previously that he has lost the trust of Tomlin just as quickly as he has gained it. I therefore think a sensible play here is to take the charitable Ravens moneyline odds of +164 combined with a shot at under the 37 total at -108. These two defenses know their opposition systems all too well and with backups on the field, execution will be below normal levels making the under a good play.
The second game of the day is a straight up fight between two AFC South rivals with the same 9-7 record as the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars. The playoff clinching scenarios for this one are wild and complex but there are results that mean all three teams get in, including whoever loses this clash. Houston’s star rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud missed two games in a row before triumphantly returning to win over the Tennessee Titans and put his team in position to go from worst to first after their disastrous 2022 season. The Colts have been another pleasant surprise this season as even though they lost their own rookie quarterback, Anthony Richardson, after Week 4. Shane Steichen deserves credit for how he has built a hard to beat team that is able to win in different ways despite not having many star players.
For this game DraftKings Sportsbook have the Colts as very narrow 1-point favorites playing at home inside Lucas Oil Stadium. In a game the oddsmakers have down as a ‘pick-em’, I am quite strongly in favor of DeMeco Ryans’ Texans and will be taking their moneyline odds of -105. The Texans may have lost the reverse fixture back in Week 2 however this young team has grown as the season has gone on and players like Will Anderson and Devin Singletary, who weren’t really factors back then, can have a huge impact.
Here is how the BFTB staff sees this game breaking down:
What do you think, BFTB? Are any of you placing bets tonight?