Monday Football Predictions: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Odds & Picks
So why am I previewing the Christmas afternoon game between the Steelers and Texans in Houston instead of a better matchup Monday night in Philadelphia between the Raiders and Eagles? Honestly, because I think there's potentially great value on Houston, as I'll explain.
Plus, neither the Raiders nor Eagles might have anything to play for by the time they take the field. Oakland needs to win out and get a ton of help to get a wild-card spot, and some of that help probably will already have failed Sunday. It could be a total dog game if the Minnesota Vikings lose Saturday night in Green Bay, which I rather doubt considering no Aaron Rodgers, but it's not impossible. Should that happen, the Eagles have squat to play for as they would have wrapped up the NFC's top seed. They need just one win or Vikings loss to do so.
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I promise you that new Browns GM John Dorsey will be watching Pittsburgh-Houston very intently. That's because Cleveland owns the 2017 first- and second round picks of the Texans (4-10). The first-rounder was courtesy of Houston moving up to No. 12 this year and taking Deshaun Watson, a move that the Texans would do again in a heartbeat considering how good Watson was before he went down. Currently, the pick would be No. 5 overall behind Cleveland (0-14), NY Giants (2-12), Indianapolis (3-11) and San Francisco (4-10). The Bucs and Bears also have 4-10 marks but are 6-7. Since strength of schedule is the tiebreaker.
To get the No. 2 pick, Houston would have to lose out (at Indy next week), the Colts would win out (at Baltimore on Sunday, so not likely, and then vs. Houston), and the Giants would have to win out (at Arizona, vs. Washington so quite possible).
AFC North champion Pittsburgh (11-3) isn't thinking 2018 but a first-round bye in the postseason. To get the top seed, the Steelers need to win out and have the Patriots lose once, which probably isn't happening considering New England is home to the Bills and Jets. What the Steelers more need to focus on is staying a game ahead of Jacksonville (10-4), which would hold any head-to-head tiebreaker. One Pittsburgh win and one Jaguars loss (Week 16 at resurgent San Francisco and Week 17 at Tennessee) does the trick.
Steelers at Texans Betting Story Lines
It's of course the last Monday action of the season as the NFL wants every team playing on Sunday in Week 17, so there are no potential advantages or disadvantages of a Monday night game. I do think we will see one Monday wild-card game, though, if the NFL does expand the field to 14 (which likely happens before the end of the decade).
I'm just going to cut to the chase and say I'm going to bet against Pittsburgh here even though it has all the motivation for the same reason I will be betting against the Patriots on Sunday against Buffalo: that amazingly emotional 27-24 game last Sunday at Heinz Field. There is no earthly way the Steelers and Pats players aren't totally flat for at least a half in the wake of that epic. So many twists and turns, none more than the Jesse James winning TD catch that wasn't a TD catch because for some reason the NFL can't clearly determine what a catch is. Was the review reversal of that technically to the letter of the rulebook? Yes, but it's a stupid rule: a player going to the ground while making a catch must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground. So, if he was levitating it would be a catch? You may remember the Cowboys got hosed on a similar call on a Dez Bryant catch in the 2014 playoffs vs. Green Bay. Look for that rule to be tweaked this offseason.
Now the Steelers know they almost surely have to go to New England in the AFC title game, and good luck winning there. This might be the last hurrah for this Pittsburgh group as Ben Roethlisberger keeps making noise about retiring. And it's Big Ben's fault the Steelers lost to the Pats as he threw a stilly pass into coverage after the James ruling that was picked off in the end zone. You throw one fade route in that scenario and kick the tying field goal for overtime if it's not a TD. To make matters worse for the Steelers' "flatness" factor here, they won't have the NFL's best receiver in Antonio Brown. He partially tore a calf muscle, but the team thinks he'll be ready for the playoffs. Better get that first-round bye! Brown had a shot at the receiving Triple Crown (yards, receptions, TDs) but now only has a shot to lead in yards.
You know who else has a shot at the receiving Triple Crown? Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, which is impressive considering his quarterbacks this season - i.e., it took Watson about two games to get good and then Tom Savage and T.J. Yates after Watson. Hopkins is tied for fourth in the NFL in catches with 92 (Brown leads with 101), second in yards with 1,313 (Brown leads with 1,553) and first in touchdowns with 12.
Yates made his first start of the year in last week's 45-7 blowout loss to Jacksonville in place of a concussed Savage (done for season), and it went about as one would respect against the NFL's top defense: 12 of 31 for 128 yards, one TD, one pick. Houston had 186 yards and nine first downs and reached Jacksonville territory twice. Hopkins caught four balls for 80 yards and that TD in the Texans' worst loss under Bill O'Brien. They also had 14 penalties for 127 yards.
Steelers at Texans Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 10-point favorite (+105) with a total of 44. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -400 and Texans +325. On the alternate lines, Pittsburgh is -9.5 (-105), -9 (-110) and -8.5 (-115). The Steelers are 6-8 against the spread (3-4 on road) and 5-9 "over/under" (1-6 on road). The Texans are 7-7 ATS (3-4 at home) and 7-7 O/U (4-3 at home).
Pittsburgh is 8-24-1 ATS in its past 33 road games vs. teams with a losing home record. It has failed to cover four straight in December. Houston is 15-5-1 ATS in its past 21 after scoring less than 15 points in its previous game. The Texans are 2-9 ATS in their past 11 Monday games. The under is 10-1 in Pittsburgh's previous 11 road games vs. teams with a losing home record. It's 22-6 in the past 28 on the road. The under is the Texans' past seven.
Steelers at Texans Betting Prediction
Just the sixth all-time meeting, with Pittsburgh leading 3-2. It won the last one, 30-23 at home in 2014. Big Ben threw for two scores and Brown had a TD pass on a trick play. Current Buccaneers backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was Houston's QB that day. Hopkins caught six passes for 108 yards.
I've already told you why I like Houston here - plus, maybe its players give a bit more effort in the home finale and perhaps to save O'Brien's job (there are rumors). Take the Texans but wait for 10.5 points. Go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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