Dec 012012
 

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

2 weeks ago, the Steelers were riding high at 6-3, including a recent win over the Giants in New York and looked like they had a chance to take control of the division with a win at home against the then 7-2 Baltimore Ravens. However, Ben Roethlisberger got hurt late against Kansas City and has been unable to play in each of their last 2 games, both Pittsburgh losses.

Now they head into Baltimore once again without Roethlisberger and the Ravens, with a win, have a chance to take a 4 game lead on the division, holding the tiebreaker, with 4 games to go, which would eliminate the Steelers from contention in the division. Not many people are giving them much chance to win here as the line is Baltimore -8.5 and the public is still on Baltimore. I’m not giving them much chance to win either, but I really like getting 8.5 points with the Steelers, especially since the public is on Baltimore. The public loses in the long run always, so I fade them as much as I can.

Since Ben Roethlisberger took over as the Steelers’ quarterback full time in week 3 of the 2004 season, he’s missed 15 games with injury, with this being his 16th. You might not expect it, but they are actually 10-5 ATS without him (including 5-3 ATS when Charlie Batch starts) in those 5 games and while they are 0-5 straight up against the Ravens, they have not lost a single one of those games by more than 6 points. In fact, they haven’t lost a single game without Roethlisberger by more than 6 points.

This is because this team is so much more than Roethlisberger and it always has been. However, with him out, teams tend to overlook them and at the same time, their talented supporting cast tends to step up. You saw it against Baltimore 2 weeks ago. If it wasn’t for Byron Leftwich getting hurt and playing the whole game injured, the Steelers could have easily won that game.

Even still, they lost by just 3 and covered the 3.5 point spread for a 5-unit pick of the week for me. Their offense outscored the Ravens’ offense and they outgained them by over 100 yards, but lost because they lost the turnover margin 2-0 and because they allowed a special teams touchdown. The Steelers defense is still awesome, ranking 5th in points per game allowed and 1st in yards allowed, by over 200 yards. This week, they return Troy Polamalu from injury, which no one seems to be talking about, but over the past 3 years, they allow about 6 points per game fewer when he’s in the lineup. That matters.

Last week, they lost to the Browns in Cleveland, but the Browns are an underrated bunch who hasn’t been blown off the field by anyone. It was a classic letdown game for the Steelers, between two tough games with the Ravens, and they had a very fluky 8 turnovers. How fluky? That’s happened 13 times since 1989. That won’t happen again. Turnover differentials are incredibly inconsistent anyway. And they still only lost by 6.

The Ravens, meanwhile, aren’t really blowing anyone out. They’ve won 2 games by more than 10 points all season and only 3 of their 9 wins have come by a touchdown or more. Actually, 5 of their 9 wins have come by a field goal or less. They’ve won their last 16 at home, but they are only 7-8-1 ATS in those 16 games and less than half (7) have come by more than a touchdown, including just 2 this season. 2 of their 5 home wins have come by a field goal or less and another one against Cleveland went down to the final play. Meanwhile, in the last 3 seasons, they’re just 4-9 ATS as touchdown home favorites. They’re winning games, but not blowing people out. I don’t think they’ll blow out the Steelers, who almost never get blown out, even without Roethlisberger.

These games are always close anyway. In their last 12 matchups, only 2 have been decided by more than 7 points either way and only one by double digits. If this game were in Pittsburgh with Baltimore missing Joe Flacco and the Steelers as 8.5 point favorites, I’d take the Ravens. I can’t see a game between these two being a blowout. The Ravens are overrated too. While they are 9-2, they rank just 9th in net points per drive, as well as 9th in DVOA and weighed DVOA. Yards aren’t everything, but they’re getting outgained in yards on the season. Calculating real line in this one wouldn’t make sense because of the injury situation, but just know that Baltimore is not as good as their record would suggest.

The Steelers, meanwhile, might be undervalued because of their fluky loss last week. At the very least, last week’s loss opened up a powerful trend in their favor in that they are road dogs off a road loss. Teams are 83-47 ATS in this spot since 2008. Since 2002, teams are a ridiculous 19-9 ATS in that spot when both games are divisional. It’s a big play on the Steelers. I really like this to be a close game. Once again, it’s a 5-unit pick of the week.

Public lean: Baltimore (60% range)

Sharps lean: PIT 8 BAL 4

Final update: No surprise that not a lot of people made this one of their top-5 picks of the week, because of the week long uncertainty surrounding Roethlisberger’s status. With him out and this line firmly above a touchdown, I really like the Steelers. They always play teams close without Roethlisberger. The Ravens almost always play teams close regardless. And these games are almost always close. The Steelers probably won’t win, but I’d be shocked if it was a blow out.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against spread: Pittsburgh +8.5 (-110) 5 units

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