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fordfixer
06-23-2009, 10:12 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers strong bet to repeat in AFC
6/19/2009 10:28 AM ET
By: Chance Harper | http://www.sbrforum.comhttp://www.sbrforum.com/Betting+Arti ... t-afc.aspx (comhttp://www.sbrforum.com/Betting+Articles/NFL/11337/pittsburgh-steelers-strong-bet-repeat-afc.aspx)

Chance Harper

Is a Pittsburgh, Arizona rematch in the Cards? We know Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will be among the contenders as they look to defend their conference crown and make it to their eighth Super Bowl. But what about the Cardinals after Arizona made a surprise trip to the championship game last season? The road to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami is closer than you think, and futures couldn't be softer.

NFL Europe is gone. The CFL, such as it is these days, doesn’t start until July. The NFL Combine and the NFL Draft are in the rear-view mirror. This must be the perfect time for handicappers to get their football fix.


I’ve said it before, it’s like buying winter clothes on sale in the summertime. The Super Bowl futures market is at its softest in the offseason, especially in that pocket of time between the end of the NBA playoffs and the start of NFL training camps in late July. The betting odds will only get tighter after camps open and we gradually get a better idea what these teams are truly made of.

Ben RoethlisbergerThe defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers opened at 7-1 to win Super Bowl XLIV at Dolphin Stadium and have since moved to 15-2, losing steam to the very public New England Patriots at 4-1. The difference between these two teams is fairly small, at least in terms of the over/under for regular season wins, with New England at 11.5 and Pittsburgh at 11. Both teams are expected to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Pats are 1-7 favorites to take the AFC East, while the Steelers are 5-7 faves in the AFC North.

Pittsburgh definitely represents the more stable of the top two Super Bowl picks. The Patriots are bringing Tom Brady back into the fold after missing nearly all of 2008 with a serious knee injury. The Steelers will have pretty much everyone of concern back for another run at the title, although that also means there are still weaknesses to be addressed at tailback and wide receiver. Pittsburgh’s offense was ranked No. 15 in the league in running efficiency last year and No. 20 in passing.

The Steelers defense created the conditions for winning by holding opponents to a league-low 13.9 points and 237.2 yards per game. They scored three touchdowns in the regular season and another at the Super Bowl when LB James Harrison huffed and puffed 100 yards to paydirt. Pittsburgh’s defensive line will be stronger with first-round pick Evander Hood from Missouri, and CB Keiwan Ratliff was signed from the Indianapolis Colts to replace Bryant McFadden.

Given this considerable advantage in field position, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (17 TD passes, 15 interceptions) kept the chains moving and played inspired football when it mattered most, all the way up to his epic title-winning pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds remaining. This is a two-time Super Bowl champion in the prime of his career at age 27. Can Brady compete with this in his age 32 season after a serious injury?

Better yet, compare the Steelers’ quiet offseason to that of their Super Bowl adversaries, the Arizona Cardinals. They’re not getting a lot of support on the market, falling from 15-1 at the open to 20-1 as contract talks with WR Anquan Boldin bog down. They’re even money to win the NFC West, which could yet again be the difference between making and missing the postseason. The good news for supporters is their total of 9.5 victories, suitably higher than the 7.0 posted for the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

The Cardinals might not look like a beacon of consistency, not with QB Kurt Warner at the controls while Matt Leinart holds a clipboard for another year – or at least until Warner gets injured, which was thankfully not an issue in an MVP-quality campaign at the tender age of 37. Arizona protected Warner in 2008 with major improvements on the offensive line under the watchful eye of assistant Russ Grimm. The Cards allowed 28 sacks last year; Pittsburgh coughed up 50. An upright quarterback is a consistent quarterback.

The Cardinals have a solid core of talent led by a top young coach in Ken Whisenhunt who cut his teeth alongside Grimm in the Steelers organization. They filled their needs at the draft, starting with former Ohio State tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells in the first round. And unlike the Steelers, they have the weaker NFC to navigate on the way back to the Super Bowl. True, history hasn’t been kind to Super Bowl losers – last year’s Patriots being the most recent hard-luck example. But value bettors might be more inclined to take their title chances with Arizona at nearly three times the payout.