The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers are doing their best to create the image they are not the typical Steelers team. Several big “personalities” are no longer in the locker room and camaraderie seems to be the point of emphasis. Analysts are doubting them, and the team wants nothing more than to fly under the radar.
But if this team isn’t wanting to be the typical Steelers team, then are there things we fans associate with the Steelers which would not be safe to assume in 2019? In the final installment before training camp, we will look at the final Steeler trend from recent years to see if the expectations should change based on evolving attitudes and philosophies.
Losing Favored Games
If you live in an area where there is more than one Steeler fan in which you can communicate, you have most likely heard the narrative of the Steelers losing games in which they are heavily favored. Many people use it as a reason to look for changes at various positions on the coaching staff. While all losses are created equal when it comes to record, some of them burn a lot more when it’s to teams who the Steelers should dominate on paper. When a single loss can determine whether a team makes the playoffs, not coming through in a game in which your team is heavily favored can cost people their jobs.
So can the 2019 Steelers break the narrative of losing games to inferior opponents? Before looking at fixing the problem, let’s take a look at how much of a problem we are facing.
Checking the Spread
Although the notion of the Steelers covering the spread is irrelevant, looking at by how much the Steelers are favored or underdogs in a game is the best indicator as to level of competition expected from their opponent. Over the past three seasons, the Steelers are 5-3 (.625) when they are underdogs and 28-11-1 (.7125) when they are favored. When underdogs by a field goal or less, the Steelers are 4-1 while going 1-2 in games the spread is +3.5 points or greater.
When the Steelers have been favored in games since 2016, they are 7-4 if the spread is three points or less. As a point of note, all four losses were when the Steelers were favored by exactly three. When the spread is more than a field goal but within a touchdown, the Steelers are 11-4-1. If the point spread is more than a touchdown in the Steelers favor, their record is 10-3.
While the Steelers still have a very good winning percentage in games they’ve been favored by more than a touchdown, the fact they have any losses is what fans are going to remember. In comparing games the Steelers are favored by 7.5 points or more, they have the longest active streak in the NFL of losing at least one game per season going back to 2014. So over the last five years, the Steelers have lost one game each season in which they should have won by more than a touchdown.
When comparing the Steelers to other NFL teams, they are tied for the third most games lost with the spread of -7.5 points or more. Along with the Steelers, the Seahawks and Packers have also both lost five games in the last five years. Seattle had the longest active streak of at least one game lost per season which began in 2013, but they did not lose any in 2018 mainly because they were favored by more than a touchdown only twice.
As for the teams who have lost more games when favored by greater than a touchdown in the last five seasons, the New Orleans Saints are in second with six losses. Leading the league is the New England Patriots with seven losses. So the narrative that the Steelers are the only team that loses these types of games is completely inaccurate. The fact New England has two more losses shows nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.
It should be noted the reason New England has lost so many games which they’ve been favored by more than a touchdown is because they have been favored so often. The Patriots have been favored by more than seven points 38 times since 2014. Seattle has a slightly better winning percentage than the Steelers as they have played 25 games with their five losses and the Steelers have played 21. Both Green Bay and New Orleans have played less games when they were favored by more than seven points with 19 and 15 respectively.
So the Steelers have lost one of each of these games the last five seasons. But they are also in some pretty elite company who have been in the same situations. While one loss seems to not be the end of the world, that single loss in 2018 is what kept the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Facing Questionable Spreads
One possible reason the Steelers lose games most people feel they should win are other factors not always being taken into consideration when determining the spread. Their loss in 2018 was in Oakland where the Steelers are notorious for losing games. It’s quite surprising the Steelers were favored by 10.5 points on the road traveling across the country.
Another questionable spread in the streak for the Steelers was in Week 16 of the 2015 season in Baltimore. Even though the Ravens were 4-10 going into the game, it seemed a bit much to favor the Steelers by 10 points in a place where they had struggled to win against a team who was notorious for playing their best football against them.
Trouble in 2019?
So where do the Steelers stand in 2019 when it comes to facing inferior opponents? Although the lines are definitely going to move, the only indication we have as to how much the Steelers are favored in games are the current Las Vegas spreads.
As of today, the only games in which the Steelers are favored by more than a touchdown are their home Monday Night Football games against Cincinnati in Week 4 and Miami and in Week 8. With both of these games being at home and in primetime, it should give Steelers fans more confidence they can be victorious in both of these matchup’s.
Personally, I feel the Steelers will be favored by more than a touchdown in more games as they approach. If this is the case, there will be more situations in which the Steelers could falter. But the more heavily-favored games they have, the better their season has been to that point. Even if other teams are not living up to their potential, the spread would not move much if the Steelers were struggling.
The biggest complaint Steelers Nation has with losing games where the Steelers are heavily favored is it appears the team is not properly prepared to face their opponent. Although preparation is a key factor, on field execution is much more important. It’s not as if the game plan against the Raiders was insufficient (not counting the entire situation with Ben Roethlisberger missing part of the game), it was the lack of execution which led to the loss.
With the changes that have been made to the Steelers this off-season, I believe the last thing they will allow to happen in 2019 is to take anything for granted. As more reports emerged of problems in the locker room last season, the 2019 Steelers seemed to gain focus on changing the narrative of “player before team.” If this attitude spreads throughout the locker room, preparation and execution should be a large point of emphasis for the 2019 season.
Whether or not an increased focus will give the Steelers a perfect record in games where they are favored by more than a touchdown remains to be seen. For the time being, I will remain “cautiously optimistic.”