It’s been quite the offseason, folks, but to the excitement of everyone, the NFL season is just over two weeks away. Now it’s time to find some value in the NFL gambling market with futures bets. When I look for value, I don’t believe you should make a bet just because a player or team has long odds (e.g. 2019 Mitch Trubisky to win the MVP). There must be some tangible reason for that value bet.
With that being said, I’ll give you my first value NFL future of the 2020 season: the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl at +2200 to +2500.
The first ingredient to winning a Super Bowl is a stable franchise with a head coach you trust.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a model organization in the NFL. They draft well, they coach well and they develop tough, smart and intelligent football players. Outside of New England, they have been the standard for consistent success in the NFL in recent years. Mike Tomlin has coached the Steelers to two Super Bowl appearances in 13 seasons, winning a title in the 2008 season. The Steelers have never finished under .500 and have had double-digit wins in eight of those 13 years under Tomlin.
Last season, the Steelers went 8-8 despite playing Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges at quarterback after an early-season injury to Ben Roethlisberger. They finished 32nd in offensive DVOA. It was a wreck on that side of the ball. But nonetheless, Tomlin held them together with an outstanding defense, which finished the season third in overall DVOA. The Steelers also ranked eighth in special teams ratings, another sign of a well-coached team.
The second ingredient to a Super Bowl winner is quarterback play.
Roethlisberger is the biggest question mark heading into the 2020 season. He’s 38 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery. I believe he’s in shape, but Ben doesn’t strike me as a workout warrior. That’s an area of concern, and I understand if people pass on the team because of him. However, I think he’s got something to prove, and I like veteran quarterbacks to succeed in 2020 after an odd offseason.
When we last really saw Big Ben in 2018, Pro Football Focus graded him as the 15th-best QB in the league, but fourth in expected points added, a good tool that measures how effective a player is on each play. That offense featured Antonio Brown, who is no longer in the NFL, and I do have some skepticism of the offense without him. However, the Steelers still have a capable squad of receivers, led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, and they’ve always seemed excellent at developing that position. They added veteran tight end Eric Ebron and rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool in the offseason, too.
The Steelers offensive line was a top-10 pass protection unit last season, and that’s with a quarterback who gave them no shot at moving the offense. Now, they get a competent quarterback and a third season in Randy Fichtner’s offense. If Big Ben can be 80-85 percent of what he used to be, that’s plenty to keep the offense moving down the field.
The third ingredient to a Super Bowl-caliber squad is the defense.
“Defense wins championships” is no longer the mantra in the NFL. However, you aren’t likely to win a Super Bowl without a defense that can get stops. Last season, the Steelers defense was third in overall efficiency, sixth on third down and first in pass rush success, according to PFF. There’s no reason to believe their defense won’t be just as good in 2020.
The fourth ingredient is a mix of schedule, playoff seeding and luck.
This is the first NFL season when seven teams will make the playoffs in each conference. That’s one team with homefield advantage, instead of the usual two. Homefield advantage has been vital to winning the Super Bowl. The last team to make a Super Bowl without having a bye was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (and they won). So if the Steelers were to have the No. 1 seed, they’d have to best the Chiefs and Ravens, which would be a tough ask.
I can’t put the Steelers ahead of either of those teams in terms of winning the AFC. This is where luck plays a role in winning a Super Bowl. Just look at the Chiefs.
Entering the final weekend of 2019, the Chiefs were looking at the No. 3 seed and a home playoff game against the red-hot Titans. Then the Dolphins went up to Foxborough and pulled off a stunning upset over the Patriots, giving the Chiefs the second seed and a first-round playoff bye. The Titans eventually beat both the Patriots and Ravens, which eliminated the Chiefs’ two toughest opponents in their march to the Super Bowl. It’s hard to determine what those breaks, outside of general injuries, the Steelers will get, but we know that’s part of the Super Bowl equation.
Do I believe the Steelers are winning the Super Bowl? No. But is the value too hard to pass up? Absolutely. That is why I’m throwing some cash down on the Steelers as a longshot Super Bowl winner.