Free Total Pick for Steelers vs. Panthers Sunday Night Football

Jason Lake

Sunday, September 21, 2014 1:40 PM UTC

Sunday, Sep. 21, 2014 1:40 PM UTC

You might think the 42-point total in this week’s Sunday Night Football game is pretty low. But that’s the biggest total the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers have ever put up on the NFL odds board.

Jason’s Record After Week 2: 4-7 ATS, 1-2-1 Totals

Profit: minus-8.8 units

Is there any friendlier team to 'under' bettors than the Carolina Panthers? They defend like crazy, they run the ball religiously, and they even punt the ball as if they were launching satellites into orbit. The Panthers had the most profitable 'Under' record in NFL betting last year at 11-5; you can tack on another two paydays to start the 2014 season, after Carolina held its first two opponents to 21 points combined.

Ah, but here come the Pittsburgh Steelers to spoil the party. Maybe. It’s hard to tell what you’re going to get from the Steelers on a week-to-week basis; they have talent on both sides of the ball, but they’ve suffered key injuries and made some bone-headed mistakes over the past couple of seasons. Pittsburgh matched its 8-8 record last year with an 8-8 split on the NFL totals, and the beat goes on this year as we head into Sunday night’s matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at The Vault. The NFL odds at press time show a total of 41.5 or 42 points, depending on where you shop, and the 'over' is getting 54 percent support at that higher price.


What Do You Get If You Multiply Six by Nine?
In this day and age, 42 points is a fairly small total, and one of the lowest on our Week 3 NFL odds board. But 42 looks like a big number compared to what these two teams have produced before. Which isn’t much: The Steelers and Panthers have only met five times since Carolina’s inaugural 1995 campaign, and not since 2010. The highest total any of those games saw was 39.5 points. The 'over' went 3-2, but really, these numbers too stale for handicapping Sunday’s contest.

What we can do is compare the 2014 Carolina Panthers to the 2013 model and see if the parts still work. Crazy defense? Check: Football Outsiders has Carolina ranked No. 2 in defensive efficiency (No. 3 pass, No. 8 rush) after two weeks. Religious running? A little more secular this year: The Panthers are tied at No. 13 in rushing attempts (57). Aeronautical punting? Not so much: Brad Nortman’s punting average has dipped from 47.8 to 45.9, again good for No. 13 in the league.

It’s only been two weeks, though, so we have to treat these numbers with care. The Panthers ran the ball a mere 24 times last week against the Detroit Lions, as RB DeAngelo Williams sat out the game with a thigh injury. He’s expected back this week. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the special teams: Nortman’s still doing fine, but his teammates have struggled a bit in punt coverage compared to last year.


KONY 2014
Updating the Greg Hardy situation, the Panthers have put their Pro Bowl right end on the exempt list for the time being. Hardy played in Carolina’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a 20-14 win for the ‘Cats ('under' 38.5), but he was deactivated for last week’s 24-7 victory over the Detroit Lions ('under' 43.5). Carolina successfully used a combination of Wes Horton (early downs), Kony Ealy (run-stuffing) and Mario Addison (late downs) to fill the hole.

It’s easy to be skeptical about the Panthers continuing to cover for Hardy, especially with DE Frank Alexander (substance abuse) suspended until Week 5. Maybe too easy – we can’t simply dismiss the way Carolina handled Detroit’s offense in Week 2. However, we can look at the Steelers and see them as the anti-Panthers: No. 25 in defensive efficiency, No. 28 in rushing attempts (47), and No. 17 in punting average (44.5 yards). Put them all on one field and let the football betting gods sort them out. We’ll take the 'over' on the low-ish total for our NFL picks in the meantime.

Free NFL Pick: Put one unit on OVER 41.5 at William Hill

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