Tim Benz: Are Penguins or Steelers a better bet to win a title?
Here’s something I noticed while hosting Mark Madden’s show on 105.9 the X.
It spawned a lot of responses on the phone lines. I keep thinking about it. So I figured it was worthy of following up.
I clicked on a story about the Tampa Bay Lightning being the 2020 Stanley Cup favorite (at +700), despite getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs last spring.
I noticed the odds on the Penguins to win the Cup were +2000. They were 12 spots behind Tampa. That means, according to Bovada, if you bet $100 on Sidney Crosby and company and they win the championship, you get $2000.
For giggles, I checked on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. Interestingly, they were also at +2000, similarly 11 spots behind the favorite (New England Patriots at +700).
Those odds against the Steelers have gotten slightly longer since then, now at +2200.
What? Was the gambling public somehow spooked by a less-than-convincing 30-28 win over the third-stringers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason opener? Has Justin Layne’s spotty performance as the fourth cornerback shaken Steeler Nation’s gambling public to the core?
But for the sake of argument, let’s say the odds are still equal, as they were a few days ago.
If I gave you 100 bucks and told you to bet it on the Steelers or the Penguins to win their respective championship, who would you choose?
You just reacted immediately with what you thought was an obvious answer one way or the other, didn’t you?
Now, give it a second and consider the other side.
Yeah. It’s a little harder than you thought, right?
Here’s the thing. If you assume both teams are going to make the playoffs, the Steelers are probably the smarter bet. If you see the Steelers as an 11-win team, they may only have to play two games to get to the Super Bowl, which is on neutral turf.
Even if they are a nine- to 10-win division champion and don’t get the bye, their first game will be at home.
Meanwhile, the Penguins will have to go through four grueling rounds of best-of-seven playoff series. A lot of Presidents’ Trophy winners have failed in that gauntlet. In fact, it’s now been 14 of the last 16.
So the Steelers appear to be the more logical choice. That’s if … if … you make your bet based on the premise that you see both teams as locks to the make the playoffs.
I don’t. In either case.
The Steelers failed to qualify last year and have since lost Antonio Brown. Plus, they play a schedule that features dates against both defending conference champions (New England and the Los Angeles Rams), as well as five other dates against playoff teams.
As for the Penguins, they went 81 games before clinching a spot last season and didn’t win a playoff game, getting swept out of the first round by the New York Islanders.
Since then, they’ve traded Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta and could deal at least one more top-nine forward, as well.
But part of the reason the Penguins would be the better bet is that they have an easier chance of qualifying for the postseason, even if the road through it is more difficult. The Penguins have five available playoff spots in the Eastern Conference (three within their division and two wild cards).
The Steelers are competing for one of only three playoff slots available to them. Either they have to win a parity-filled AFC North or qualify for one of two wild cards.
Given that the AFC West (Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers) and South (Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts) both produced two bids last year, a wild-card berth may be a tough putt for the Steelers, as was the case after their 9-6-1 record in 2018.
Also, the Penguins haven’t missed the playoffs since 2006. They have winning experience in the playoffs, having claimed two Cups in the last four years. They still have more high-end talent than most teams — with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray.
And Mike Sullivan’s recent playoff track record is still better than Mike Tomlin’s.
Then, there is the injury factor. Crosby could suffer a six- to eight-week injury. That would hurt the Penguins for sure. But maybe they can stay afloat.
However, if Ben Roethlisberger is out six to eight weeks at any stretch, the Steelers can start planning for the draft.
Given the confidence the Pittsburgh fan base tends to have in both teams, normally you’d need less convincing to throw $100 down on either club. And rarely are the potential payouts this great.
Coming off disappointing endings and tumultuous offseasons for both franchises, though, you can understand why skepticism in Vegas exists.
And I think betting on the Penguins to exploit that skepticism is the slightly smarter play.