May 18, 2021

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Don’t rule out long-shot Steelers making an NFL…

4 min read
Don't rule out long-shot Steelers making an NFL...

LAS VEGAS — A dazzling debut by Daniel Jones, who won his first start for the Giants, added some perspective to the NFL’s most valuable position on the season’s third Sunday. A team not grooming a quarterback for the future has no future.

The Giants still face plenty of problems, especially defensively, but Jones’ emergence and the transition away from Eli Manning provides hope and changes the team’s perception among bettors and oddsmakers.

On the other hand, the Broncos appear hopeless with 34-year-old Joe Flacco slowly spinning his wheels for a winless team.

“Denver is 0-3 with no production from the quarterback. With John Elway picking quarterbacks, that’s the kiss of death,” said VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive. “I mis-evaluated Denver defensively, and that team is not very good.”

Football handicapping is fluid. Each new week is a time to reevaluate teams. There are seven 3-0 teams in the league, but this is not about the good.

This is about the bad and the ugly.

Do any of the winless teams — a group that includes the 0-3 Redskins, who lost to the Bears on Monday night — still have legitimate hopes of making a run at respectability? Don’t bet on it.

From 1980 through 2018, 176 teams started a season 0-3 and only six went on to make the playoffs. It actually happened last year with the Houston Texans, the first team to turn the trick since the Buffalo Bills in 1998.

Six teams are 0-3 (Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, Jets, Steelers and Redskins) and the Cardinals are 0-2-1. No. 1 draft pick Kyler Murray, Arizona’s quarterback of the future, is taking a beating. The Jets’ future is Sam Darnold, who’s sidelined with mono.

William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said he sees only one winless team with a shot at reaching the playoffs. It’s a long shot.

“The Steelers can still do it in one of the weaker divisions,” Bogdanovich said. “But let’s face it, math is math. If you go 0-3, a lot of things have to go right.”

Pittsburgh’s rating was lowered six points last week with the estimated drop-off from Ben Roethlisberger to Mason Rudolph. However, Big Ben was bad in two games (56.5 percent completions, 5.7 yards per attempt, zero TDs) before going down with a season-ending elbow injury, forcing the Steelers to find out if Rudolph is their future.

Rudolph passed for two touchdowns yet the Steelers, 6½-point underdogs, were outgained 436 to 239 and fell 24-20 at San Francisco despite a plus-3 turnover margin.

“Rudolph looked decent for being thrown into the fire,” Bogdanovich said.

A decent Rudolph might be enough to win Monday, when Pittsburgh is a 4½-point home favorite over AFC North rival Cincinnati in a Week 4 matchup not made for prime time. The Bengals have covered the spread twice on the road, against Buffalo and Seattle, but it’s a team going nowhere with veteran quarterback Andy Dalton.

Bogdanovich said he has not completely given up on the Broncos. Flacco has two touchdown passes and two interceptions while being sacked 11 times in three losses. Denver’s defense has no sacks or takeaways, a surprising result considering defensive mastermind Vic Fangio is the new coach and Von Miller and Bradley Chubb lead what was expected to be an elite pass rush.

“The defense was supposed to be Denver’s strength,” Bogdanovich said. “Flacco is Flacco.”

Which means Flacco is not Peyton Manning. Elway’s latest QB move is already backfiring on the troubled general manager. It’s now or never for the Broncos, who are three-point home favorites over the Jaguars and their rising star rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew.

The Jets are 1-2 against the spread, and Bogdanovich called their Sunday cover in New England “huge” for the sportsbooks. The Patriots drew overwhelming support as 21-point favorites and led 30-0 before the Jets cashed in on a fumble return and an interception return to beat the number and the betting public.

“The Jets offense could have played for seven hours and not scored,” Bogdanovich said. “Once Darnold gets back, that will help immensely.”

After the bye, the Jets face a grueling stretch against the Eagles, Cowboys and Patriots.

Miami (0-3 ATS) is a 16½-point home ’dog to the Chargers this week, and the Cardinals are four-point home ’dogs to the Seahawks. Bogdanovich said “pick your spots” when betting ugly underdogs — in other words, pick very few of those spots.

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