What a regular-season finale for West Virginia online sportsbook bettors.
Their favorite NFL teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Football Team — highlight the league’s frantic postseason scenarios. Let’s look at each.
Browns: It’s all down to this
The 10-5 Browns, who stubbed their toe and lost to the one-win New York Jets last week, must defeat the visiting Steelers to enter the postseason. Normally, that’s bad news. But the Steelers revealed on Tuesday that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the performer they must have healthy in the playoffs, will be rested. So will other stars.
That shot the line up to Cleveland -10 across the major sportsbooks, where it stood midweek. (The Steelers pounded the Browns 38-7 in their first meeting.) The Browns have their entire season in front of them: win and they are in.
For bettors, quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, along with receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, will be targeted for prop wagers.
The weather isn’t favorable, but could be worse. Morning rain and snow showers, with game-time temperatures around 40 degrees, are forecast for Cleveland. The game total over-under of 42 is modest. The uncertainty is how much the new-look Pittsburgh offense will score.
The winds are expected to be reasonable, at 12 mph. But bettors should check the forecast, along with lineups, in the hours before game time.
Ironically, if the Browns beat the Steelers to reach the playoffs, who might they face in the first round? The Steelers, in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh: The power of choice
While the Browns have a win-or-else ultimatum, the 12-3 Steelers can exercise the option of sitting tight.
They are essentially locked into the No. 3 playoff seed behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs clinched the AFC’s lone bye, and the Bills are second. The Bills would need to lose to the Miami Dolphins and the Steelers would have to beat Cleveland for Pittsburgh to leapfrog Buffalo into second place.
The reward for the second seed is the home field if Pittsburgh and Buffalo meet again, presumably in the second week of the postseason. But crowds are sparse this year anyway. Is the home field worth the risk to key players?
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said no. Why jeopardize the health of Roethlisberger, a key to the team’s improvement over 8-8 last season? He’s needed for the playoffs.
The Steelers will turn to Mason Rudolph to start at quarterback in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns.
Rudolph played in 10 games in 2019, including a 5-3 record. He threw for 1,765 yards and 13 touchdowns to nine interceptions in Roethlisberger’s absence.
Josh Dobbs will play backup to Rudolph in Week 17.
Ravens: Watch out, they’re hot
The Ravens again control their own destiny. Cleveland’s loss to the Jets, combined with the two wins they have over the Browns, vaulted Baltimore from the outside-looking-in perch to a playoff position last week. How valuable now is that wild 47-42 Monday Night Football victory over the Browns a couple of weeks back, when the Ravens were one play away from losing the game?
That victory means they must “simply” beat the Cincinnati Bengals, now winners of two straight, as a road favorite to enter the playoffs. The Bengals knocked the Ravens from the playoffs three years ago in a similar situation.
The Ravens’ running game has come alive in the last four weeks. Wins over the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants have seen the Ravens play consistent football.
This 14-2 team from last year, which stumbled in the playoffs because of postseason inexperience, is the one team nobody wants to face.
Washington: Can the chameleons win the NFC East?
As the Washington Football Team visits the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, it is the only NFC team guaranteed a postseason berth with a victory.
Before this game, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants play in the afternoon. The loser is eliminated; the winner takes the division if Washington can’t beat the Eagles.
Washington is an enigma: five straight losses early in the season; a subsequent four-game win streak, which included three straight on the road, one in Pittsburgh; and then two dreadful home losses, one when it could have clinched the division.
So bad was this offense last week against the Carolina Panthers that quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who started the game, has been released.
Alex Smith is supposed to start for Washington. If he can’t go, backup Taylor Heinicke will get the nod. He looked better than Haskins did last week.
Washington’s offense has scored three touchdowns total in the last three games. It looked dysfunctional under Haskins, and the wheels are coming off the team, but …
One win can redeem all of it.
Bengals: The punch line in a story
The now four-win Bengals have two straight wins and became the subject of an interesting tale shared with PlayWV by Johnny Avello, the race and sportsbook director at DraftKings.
It goes like this:
Two weeks ago, the New York Jets prevailed as a 17-point underdog against the Los Angeles Rams, and the Bengals beat the 14.5 point-favored Pittsburgh Steelers. It is considered the largest combined upset total by two underdogs in one week in many years.
Avello said he couldn’t recall the last time two underdogs this big even played in the same week.
Claiming to have liked these longshots beforehand was considered a “Pinocchio Parlay.” Watch the nose grow as you lied about having an inkling for both the Jets and Bengals. The Jets had just lost by 37 points to the Seattle Seahawks.
But then an unusual ticket surfaced.
Avello, through his contacts, discovered a brick-and-mortar play for the ages that had been wagered at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. One gambler took both teams in a parlay bet. It wasn’t enough to get one colossal upset; this ticket needed two. (Can you imagine getting either upset and not cashing in?)
And the gambler went big, to the tune of $200. The ticket needed both monster upsets and got them. What did the $200 pay? A whopping $19,200.
Before the applause could settle down for this bettor, the Jets and Bengals went out and did it again last week. New York defeated Cleveland, and Cincinnati upset the Houston Texans. We don’t know if that bettor played them again, but the Jets and Bengals proved that the NFL was made stronger by the performance of its weakest links.
Two nonplayoff teams. Two lost seasons. But two teams capable of rewarding gamblers who have faith in them.
The Jets play in New England this week, and the Bengals host the Ravens. The Jets could beat the woeful Patriots, but the Bengals, the biggest underdog on the DraftKings board at +13, can’t beat the hungry Ravens to make this a three-peat from two basement teams. Or can they?
Around the league
The afternoon window has been spiced up for bettors. The NFL moved the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints-Carolina Panthers to the afternoon slot. This brings both teams in line with the start time for the Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers.
Had the Packers beaten the Bears at 1 p.m., Seattle’s contest would have essentially become an exhibition game. The switch in times will be appreciated by the gamblers and the books.
Ever hear of Chris Streveler and John Wolford?
Well, neither has ever thrown an NFL pass, but both are expected to start in place of injured quarterbacks when the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals meet — with the season on the line.
Injuries to Jared Goff of the Rams and Kyler Murray of the Cardinals will thrust these two rookies into the pressure cooker. Given the NFL’s crazy battle with COVID-19 and the added playoff spot that kept more teams in the hunt, this is a compelling script.
But bettors have a dilemma: Who do you trust? The normal answer is the running game, but both defenses will be primed to take it away. Wolford is mobile, which may be a factor.