Baltimore Ravens (7-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Ben Roethlisberger is out for this one. How can the Steelers possibly beat the 7-2 Ravens? That’s the question that everyone seems to be asking this week and apparently no one can come up with an answer as the public is pounding Baltimore as road favorites here. However, as is often the case with the public on heavy leans, I think they’re going to be wrong. There is a simple answer to that question: they’ll beat them the same way they normally beat teams without Ben Roethlisberger.
Since he took over as starter full time during week 3 of 2004, Ben Roethlisberger has missed 13 games. The Steelers are 8-5 in those 13 games, a winning percentage of 62%. When he does play, they have a winning percentage of 70%. It’s a difference, but not a huge difference and that’s just at first glance. If we exclude overtime losses, the Steelers are 8-2 in games without Ben Roethlisberger as they’ve lost 3 of those 5 games in overtime. Going off that, none of those 5 losses has come by more than 6 points, including 3 losses that would have still covered this 3.5 point spread.
It’s true that they have lost 4 times to the Ravens without Ben Roethlisberger (why does he always miss these games?!), but by a combined 15 points, including 3 games decided by just a field goal. In the Joe Flacco era, both of the Ravens’ games against the Roethlisberger-less Steelers have been decided by 3 points, two final scores that would equal a Pittsburgh cover if they were to happen this week and these aren’t the same Ravens as they have been in the past (more on that later).
Overall without Roethlisberger, the Steelers are 9-4 ATS, including 4-0 ATS as dogs. This year’s defense might not be quite the same as their defenses have been in the past. After all, they’ve had a top-3 scoring defense in 6 of the last 8 seasons. They are missing Troy Polamalu. However, that being said, they rank 7th in opponent’s scoring and 1st in opponent’s yardage, so it’s not like their defense is playing badly. In fact, they’re playing very well. Besides, in the two seasons they did not have a top-3 defense, they still covered in both instances without Ben Roethlisberger.
It’s not just defense that’s winning them these games without Roethlisberger. The whole team seems to play better. They’re a prideful bunch and never roll over easy without Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin (under whom they are 6-2 ATS without Roethlisberger) will have them playing for pride with everyone doubting them against a Ravens team that did beat them twice last year. They’ll definitely want revenge for those losses, in addition to wanting to shut up the critics.
Given all that, it’s ridiculous that the Steelers are +3.5 here at home. A week ago, this line was -5.5. Roethlisberger is good, but he’s certainly not worth 9 points. And even if Roethlisberger hadn’t gotten hurt and this line had stayed -5.5, I would have picked the Steelers. The rate of sustaining drives differential method gives us a real line of Pittsburgh -7 and the yards per play differential method gives us a real line of Pittsburgh -4.5 and if you average those, you do get slightly higher than -5.5. Obviously, those two formulas don’t do a ton of good in a game where one team is missing a Pro-Bowl quarterback, but at the same time, this line should not have moved 9 full points.
The reason Pittsburgh deserved to be around -5.5 or -6 with Roethlisberger is that the Ravens are overrated. Before last week, this team had not won a single game by 10 or more since week 1 and only one was decided by more than a touchdown, 2 weeks ago at Cleveland, a game in which the lowly Browns actually scored more frequently than the Ravens, but frequently imploded in field goal range and had to settle for 5 field goals. During that stretch, they’ve had two less than stellar performances against the Browns, a 3 point road win against the lowly Chiefs, a near home loss to the Cowboys, and a blowout loss in Houston. Before last week, this team hadn’t done anything remotely impressive since a 31-30 home win against the Patriots week 3.
Their defense has been destroyed by injuries and ranks 27th in yards per game allowed, while the offense ranks just 17th, producing more than 40 yards per game less than their defense allows. Because of Joe Flacco’s inconsistencies, they remain a unit that cannot be relied on weekly to win the game for them if the defense isn’t playing well.
Even in last week’s blowout win over the Ravens, they got outgained. They rank just 8th in yards per play differential and 18th in rate of sustaining drives differential. They’re pretty overrated right now and would have deserved to be dogs of 6 or so in Pittsburgh with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ side. They certainly don’t deserve to be 3.5 point favorites in Pittsburgh with the Steelers missing Roethlisberger. For reference, they were -3.5 in Cleveland two weeks ago and had trouble covering the spread. You can’t tell me the Steelers are equal to the Browns now.
Aside from that, the Steelers are in a good spot, part of why I would have taken them even had Roethlisberger not gotten hurt and had the line stayed put. Teams are 10-3 ATS after a home overtime win as double digit favorites since 1989. Meanwhile, teams are 32-24 ATS off a home win of 3 or fewer as double digit dogs. Almost losing as big favorites tends to serve as just as good of a wakeup call as actually losing. Mike Tomlin is 17-10 ATS off a loss and 25-18 ATS off a game in which the Steelers failed to cover. He’s also 5-3 ATS in divisional revenge games and, as I mentioned, the Ravens beat the Steelers twice last year.
In addition to all of those trends, two kick in now that Pittsburgh is a dog. Dogs before being favorites are 92-52 ATS since 2011. The Steelers go to Cleveland next week. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin is 3-1 ATS as dogs against the Ravens. I really like the Steelers this week. At the very worst, they should be able to keep this within a field goal again so getting the 3.5 is key. I have a feeling the Steelers pull out the straight up win, however. Everyone is doubting them and they’re traditionally good even without Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, the Ravens are overrated.
Public lean: Baltimore (90% range)
Sharps lean: PIT 17 BAL 6
Final update: Glad to see that the sharps agree with my pick of the week.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 20 Upset Pick +170
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh +3.5 (-110) 5 units