By Dan Karpuc
Going 8-8 isn’t normally a major accomplishment, but the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers defied the NFL odds when they were able to finish the regular season with a .500 record. After all, they dealt with a number of debilitating injuries, none of which was more disastrous than Ben Roethlisberger’s in the second contest of the year. Relying on Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges under center, the team recovered from an 0-3 start and five of their eight losses came by single-digits. All five of those losses were decided by one possession as well.
Based on their opponents’ 2019 records (117-139), the Steelers have the second-easiest schedule in 2020 and were assigned an 8.5 regular-season win total by DraftKings. They also have +2800 odds (T-10th highest) to win the Super Bowl, +1400 odds to win the AFC Championship (T-4th highest) and +350 odds to win the AFC North (2nd highest). Further, they’re listed as -121 favorites to make the playoffs (and are +100 to not make the playoffs) and MGM lists their odds to win 0-4 regular games at +6500, 5-8 games at +135, 9-12 wins at -167, and 13-16 wins at +2000. BetQL’s model will list NFL picks for every single game in 2020.
One thing is for certain: oddsmakers are expecting a bounce-back season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The over under line for the Steelers is already set at 9.5, but more specifically a major bounce back for their offensive playmakers.
Roethlisberger is listed at +400 to win the Comeback Player Of The Year Award, right behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (+300). His passing yardage over/under is also listed at 4000.5. JuJu Smith-Schuster is also expected to rebound, as his over/under receiving yardage is set at 1175.5. (on DraftKings) and 1099.5 (on FanDuel). This is especially revealing, considering his 2019 output.
After racking up 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, Smith-Schuster hauled in just 42 passes for 552 yards and three scores due in large part to Big Ben’s absence last year. It’s worth noting that the wideout did miss four games due to injury as well, but he wasn’t nearly as productive without Roethlisberger. Smith-Schuster averaged just 46.0 yards per game (compared to 89.1 with Big Ben slinging him the pigskin in 2018).
Last season, Smith-Schuster had a 79.0% snap share, was on the field for 33.9 pass plays per game and saw 72 targets on a 18.3% target share. He also caught just four passes in the red zone and scored three touchdowns. Further, 72.2% of his targets were catchable balls and he had an 80.8% true catch rate.
For comparison, in 2018, he had a 88.4% snap share, was on the field for 44.6 pass plays per game and saw 166 targets on a 24.5% target share. He also caught 16 passes in the red zone and scored seven touchdowns. Further, 78.9% of his targets were catchable balls and he had a 84.7% true catch rate.
With Roethlisberger regaining control of the offense to start the 2020 season, Smith-Schuser should be expected to headline a dynamic offense. Based on the incredible volume of targets he attracted in 2018, Big Ben should immediately re-establish the connection and the duo should pick up where they left off, especially in the red zone, where the wideout saw a 31.2% target share in their last full season together.
Even if they don’t match their 2018 output, the Steelers passing offense as a whole should put up a lot of crooked numbers in 2020 now that Eric Ebron and rookie Chase Claypool joined Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Jaylen Samuels and James Conner as viable options. Given the fact that their defense is already elite, Steelers fans have a lot to feel optimistic about at the moment.
#SteelerNation let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Will the connection of Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster pay dividends for fans this season?
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