Steelers/Dolphins Line Move - What Does This Mean for Bettors?
by Trevor Whenham - 09/06/2006
Tomorrow night was supposed to be so straight forward - the Super Bowl champions are playing their first game of the season against the most hyped new-ish coach in the NFL, there will be a concert for us to watch, maybe some fireworks and then the season is officially underway.
There are high hopes for the Dolphins, but the Steelers were comfortable favorites and likely winners. Until, that is, Ben Roethlisberger's appendix decided on Sunday morning that it didn't like being inside of his body anymore. Now Big Ben is out for at least a game after surgery, Charlie Batch is filling in, and bettors are jumping off of the Steelers at an incredible rate.
Before Big Ben went down to the surgeon's knife, his team was four point favorites (more in some places). With Batch in, the defending champs are now just one-point favorites. Some sites even have the Dolphins listed as slight favorites. Bettors are clearly not in love with Mr. Batch. Are they right, though? Is this significant shift in the line warranted? A shift of a line like that can create value for bettors, but first we have to decide if we should still believe in the Steelers. Here's a look at both sides:
Run away from Pittsburgh
1) The Capers factor - Dom Capers is the new defensive coordinator of the Dolphins. When Big Ben faced the Capers defense in Houston last year he tore it apart. He completed two-thirds of his passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns - his second best passing total of the season. Roethlisberger's ability to handle what Capers could throw at him had to factor into the spread, so the absence of Ben should logically lower the spread. Losing that advantage makes Pittsburgh lose its betting appeal.
2) The rust factor - Batch started two games last year, but those were the first starts since 2001 for the pivot. He handled Cleveland and Green Bay in those starts, but Miami will be a much better team. On top of that, Roethlisberger only got sick on Sunday, so Batch will have only had three days of practice with the first team offense, and Wednesday hardly counts since the day before the game is always a light practice. The offense will miss a beat (or six) because of the circumstances. That makes them a bad bet despite the drop in the spread.
3) The Hines Ward factor - Hines Ward is probably going to play, but he has missed practice recently with a strained hamstring. Ward will be the guy Batch will look to if he gets in trouble and needs a reliable target. If Ward doesn't play, or if he is at less than 100 percent, then Batch could be in trouble, and the Steelers aren't worth a bet regardless of the new spread.
Jump on the Pittsburgh Bandwagon
1) Batch can do it - Batch may not have been a great starter in his days in Detroit, but he has found a great niche for himself as a backup in Pittsburgh. He showed last year that he was able to jump in on short notice and win. He completed 56 percent of his passes in the win against Green Bay, and then completed 13-of-19 passes in a win against Cleveland. Despite not having strong working relationships with his receivers, he only threw one interception. He didn't make any highlight reels (and he probably never will), but he was competent and safe. It's not like the Steelers have to start someone truly awful - like Tommy Maddox or something.
2) Batch knows his stuff - He joined the team in 2002, and this is his third season working with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. In other words, he knows the offense like the back of his hand. He might not be experienced on the field running the plays, but he has spent enough time with them that he won't struggle implementing them.
3) Batch had a decent preseason - He played in every game, completed 22 passes in 37 tries (59.5 percent), and connected for a touchdown. The only real glitches were two interceptions. The preseason didn't give us any huge reasons to be afraid of Batch with the ball.
4) It's Pittsburgh. They don't pass anyway - The argument people give most for running away from Pittsburgh is that Batch will struggle with the passing game, giving Miami the ability to focus on the blitz and create chaos. But since when does Pittsburgh rely on passing? There were 12 quarterbacks last year in the NFL who had more completed passes on the season than Roethlisberger had passing attempts. The team led the league in rushing attempts, so it would be much more of a concern if that part of the offense were to disappear.
5) The hometown advantage - The Steelers won four of their last five at home. This is the first time they have been at home since the end of the regular season. The team has a new Super Bowl. In other words, the crowd is going to be completely and utterly insane. That made the Steelers attractive when they had to overcome a four point spread. It makes them a steal with this line.
So, make your pick, decide which side makes sense for you, and let the NFL regular season begin.