Baltimore Ravens (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
The Ravens are 0-3 but none of their losses have come by more than a touchdown. Their loss in Oakland was bad, but Oakland doesn’t look quite as bad as they usually do, so that road loss doesn’t look so bad anymore, and they came close to beating both Denver and Cincinnati, who are among the best teams in the league. I had the Ravens as one of the better teams in the AFC going into the season and I still think they have playoff caliber talent, even with the likes of Terrell Suggs, Breshad Perriman, and Eugene Monroe out with injury. They have a weak receiving corps and haven’t been able to get a consistent running game going, but they have a strong offensive line, a solid defense, and a solid quarterback.
They also get a gift here as they are playing the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to miss at least a month with a knee injury. That greatly increases the chances that the Ravens will avoid 0-4. Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the entire NFL and had been playing especially well through the first 3 weeks of the season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked quarterback thus far.
Instead, it’ll be Michael Vick this week, as the Steelers go from one of the best starting quarterbacks in the league to one of the worst. Vick remained unsigned late into the off-season after being utterly ineffective in limited action last season, completing 52.9% of his passes for an average of 4.99 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked quarterback, despite playing just 281 snaps. No one played fewer snaps than him and graded out worse. The Jets moved the chains at a pathetic 64.44% rate in the games in which he played at least 50% of the snaps, even worse than when Geno Smith played, when they moved them at a 69.18% rate. Vick is also 4-17 ATS since 2012, which is ridiculously awful, and he won’t get better, going into his age 35 season now. The line only adjusted 6 points for Roethlisberger’s injury. That’s not nearly enough.
Vick does have a much better offensive supporting cast in Pittsburgh than he did with the Jets. He’ll be able to lean on LeVeon Bell as both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, he has a solid offensive line in front of him, and he has arguably the best wide receiver in the game in Antonio Brown. However, Roethlisberger isn’t their only major absence from what was one of the least injured offenses in the league last season, as they are also missing wide receiver Martavis Bryant and center Maurkice Pouncey.
On top of that, the Steelers’ defense is a big problem. They ranked 25th in rate of moving the chains allowed last season and rank 19th through 3 games this season, despite a strong showing last week against the Rams’ hapless offense. They’ll also be missing linebacker Ryan Shazier for the second straight game and he’s one of their few defensive players who has played well this season. The Ravens have injury issues, but the Steelers are in a way worse spot than them injury wise.
Perhaps the Ravens will finally be able to establish their running game this week. They finished last season 7th in yards per attempt, but rank just 28th right now. The Ravens are also in a much better spot, with only a home game against Cleveland on deck, while Pittsburgh has to go to San Diego next week, a potential looming distraction that the Ravens don’t have. Teams are 78-54 ATS since 2012 as road favorites before being favored again if their opponent will be underdogs next week. All other road favorites are 60-82 ATS over that time period.
With all that in mind, I really like the Ravens as mere 2.5 point favorites here in Pittsburgh. The Ravens have historically not done as well on the road as they have at home in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, outscoring opponents by 10.08 points at home, but just 0.97 points on the road, and the public is on them pretty heavily, so it’s not a massive play, but I like the Ravens to win by at least a field goal, if not more, and finally get into the win column.
Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 13
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -2.5