Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

The Ravens have lost five straight games, including the last four without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, but it hasn’t been as bad as that sounds, as their only loss over that stretch by more than two points came in a game started by third string quarterback Josh Johnson. Second string quarterback Tyler Huntley has been Jackson’s replacement in the other three games and remains the starter in this game, having played reasonably well thus far. 

The Ravens are also healthier on defense than they’ve been recently, with edge defender Justin Houston, interior defenders Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, cornerback Jimmy Smith, and safety Chuck Clark all returning from short-term absences, which have been in part to blame for their recent struggles on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers are also relatively healthy and they have a slightly better record at 8-7-1, but that’s in large part due to 7-2 record in one-score games, with the Ravens possessing a significant edge in point differential (-2 vs. -58) and schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (16th vs. 27th).

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty open secret that the Steelers aren’t as good as their record, to the point where the Ravens are 3.5-point favorites even with a backup quarterback and a 5-game losing streak. We’re actually still getting a little bit of line value, as my calculated line has the Ravens favored at home by 5 points, but it’s not enough to be confident in the Ravens at all. They’re the pick, but only for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: This line has dropped to 3, so I am going to boost the confident on Baltimore a little bit at that number.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

The Rams hit a mid-season skid a few weeks ago, losing three straight games, but they all came against quality opponents, they have still been one of the best teams in the league this season despite those losses, ranking 9th, 9th, 5th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, and they have won four straight games since their mid-season skid. 

That winning streak has also come despite the Rams missing some key players, as they were without center Brian Allen and cornerback Jalen Ramsey against the Cardinals, safety Jordan Fuller, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and tight end Tyler Higbee against the Seahawks, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings. All of those players are expected to play this week for the Rams, who are not only healthier than they have been in weeks, but one of the few relatively healthy teams left right now.

The Ravens cannot say the same, although they will be in slightly better shape than last week’s skeleton crew, even if mostly by default. They’ll get backup quarterback Tyler Huntley back from COVID protocols and he will start in place of the injured Lamar Jackson, after third string Josh Johnson was forced into action last week, while defensive lineman Calais Campbell, edge defender Justin Houston, and cornerback Jimmy Smith are set to return on defense, but, in addition to Jackson, the Ravens will still be without their two best running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, a pair of starters on the offensive line in Ronnie Stanley and Ben Powers, starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, their two best cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and starting safety DeShon Elliott.

The Rams are favored by 5.5 points in this matchup, but the talent gap between these two teams is even bigger than that suggests, as I have about 10.5 points between these two teams in my roster rankings, giving us a calculated line of Rams -8.5, as long as nothing changes in terms of COVID protocols with either of these two teams. I want to make sure nothing unexpected changes before locking this pick in, but I will likely be betting on the Rams before gametime.

Update: Nothing has changed here, so I want to lock this one in at -5.5 before the line potentially moves.

Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

Earlier in the week, the Ravens looked like an intriguing bet. These two teams met in Baltimore earlier this year, with the Bengals pulling the upset, but that doesn’t always mean that the Bengals will be able to win even easier now that they are at home in the rematch. Divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.

The Bengals’ win in Baltimore earlier this season came in blowout fashion, with a final score of 41-17, but it wasn’t as lopsided as the final score suggests, as it was close for most of the game before the Ravens were forced to go for it on several 4th downs late (1 of 4 in the game) and failed. In terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals held the edge by just 1.52%, which is more predictive than anything on a week-to-week basis.

The Ravens were always likely to be without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson in this game, set to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, but backup Tyler Huntley has been impressive enough that I would have been willing to bet on them with the right line. Unfortunately, Huntley will now miss this game as well, leaving third string Josh Johnson to start, just a few weeks after joining the team. The line has shifted up to favoring the Bengals by a touchdown, but we’re not getting any line value with them at that new number with a third string quarterback under center, especially given the rest of the Ravens’ absences.

Many of the Ravens’ absences have been out for an extended period of time, but, in total, they will be without their two best quarterbacks, their two best running backs (Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins), a pair of offensive line starters (Ronnie Stanley and Ben Powers), their two top cornerbacks (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters), one starting safety (DeShon Elliott), a key reserve in the secondary (Jimmy Smith), and at least two expected starters in the front seven (Justin Houston and Derek Wolfe) and potentially a third, with Calais Campbell questionable to return from a one-game absence. 

The Bengals, meanwhile, are one of the relatively healthiest teams in the league, in total missing talented interior defender DJ Reader, starting right tackle Riley Reiff, and top linebacker Logan Wilson, but no one else of note. We were still getting some line value with the Ravens earlier in the week when Huntley was likely to play, but with Johnson under center now and the line only moving up to a touchdown, we aren’t getting any line value with them at all, as this is exactly where my calculated line is. 

I am still taking the Ravens for pick ‘em purposes, but only because they should be in a good spot in this rematch, even with that, this is a no confidence pick and could easily end up as a push. I may bump this up to low confidence if Campbell plays, but it would be hard to bet on the Ravens confidently in their current state and if Campbell doesn’t play I might switch to a no confidence pick on the Bengals. That’s how close this one is for me.

Update: Campbell is active, which is huge news for an otherwise skeleton crew defense. I am increasing the confidence slightly on this.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +7

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Player absences have been a big theme in games this week and this game is no different, except for the fact that most of the absences in this game are injury related, rather than COVID. In addition to the sheer amount of players expected to miss this game, which I will get into later, there is also a significant amount of uncertainty because the Ravens don’t know if quarterback Lamar Jackson will be able to play through an ankle sprain and, even if he does play, his effectiveness would be a question, given how much he is dependent on his athleticism and how he has been struggling already in recent weeks.

The odds makers seem to think the Ravens will be without Jackson, shooting this line up to favor the Packers by a touchdown in Baltimore, after favoring them by just 1.5 points on the early line a week ago. Jackson is far from the Ravens’ only injury concern and not their only new absence or potential absence either. Already without stud left tackle Ronnie Stanley, their two best running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, starting cornerback Marcus Peters and starting safety De’Shon Elliott for an extended period of time, the Ravens are now without starting left guard Ben Powers, top defensive lineman Calais Campbell, starting safety Chuck Clark, top cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and his would-be replacement Jimmy Smith.

The Ravens are 8-5, but they haven’t been as good as their record even when they were healthier, as they have gone 6-3 in one score games and rank 14th, 24th, 1st, and 11th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. The Packers have their own injury issues though and it doesn’t seem like this line has fully taken those into account, as this is an inflated line even if Jackson plays and is replaced by backup Tyler Huntley, an unproven, but promising replacement. 

The Packers have been banged up all season long, but the hits have kept coming in recent weeks. Already with a long-term absent list of left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, three of the best players in the league at their respective positions, as well as starting center Josh Myers and starting tight end Robert Tonyan, the Packers in recent weeks have lost slot receiver Randall Cobb, top defensive lineman Kenny Clark, and another two starters on the offensive line, Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner.

The Packers are 10-3 despite all of this, but they haven’t fared as well in more predictive metrics like first down rate and yards per play and, as previously mentioned, their injury situation is only getting worse. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on these metrics, the Packers rank 11th, 9th, and 32nd respectively on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while ranking just 18th in mixed efficiency. One of their losses came without Aaron Rodgers, while a fluky blowout loss to the Saints week one skews their efficiency ratings, but missing all they are missing, it’s hard to argue the Packers are as good as their 10-3 record, at least right now.

The Ravens definitely aren’t as good as their record either, especially if Jackson sits or is heavily limited, but this line has swung too far in the Packers’ direction given all they are missing as well. In addition to their injuries, the Packers have also not been as good away from home in Aaron Rodgers’ career, unsurprising given that Rodgers’ 10 point QB rating drop off from home to away is well above average, and that has continued into this season, as their only road victory that would have covered this 7-point spread came in a 10-point win in Chicago in a game that was closer than the final score against a Bears team that the Ravens beat without Jackson a few weeks ago. 

Even without taking the Packers’ relative road struggles into account, my calculated line has the Packers favored by just 3.5 points, even if Huntley plays or Jackson is heavily limited. I am not really making much distinction between a limited Jackson and Tyler Huntley in my roster rankings and I would take the Ravens as touchdown home underdogs regardless, so I want to lock this one in now, as the line could drop on game day if Jackson ends up being able to play.

Update: It seems like Jackson is out, as this line has shifted to 9.5. I already assumed he would be out when I bet on the Ravens at +7, so I am going to increase this bet at the higher number. The Packers have just one double digit road win all season and Tyler Huntley is a promising backup quarterback.

Green Bay Packers 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +9.5

Confidence: High

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (6-6)

The Ravens are 8-4, but they are not nearly as good as their record. They have played a lot of close games and are overall 6-2 in one score games, which is not something they can rely on long-term. When these two teams met two weeks ago in Baltimore, I picked the Browns as 3.5-point underdogs, as a result of the Ravens’ lack of big wins, and the Browns had numerous chances to cover that number in a game that was tight throughout and an eventual 6-point loss, giving the Ravens’ just their third biggest margin of victory of the season.

This week, these two teams meet in Cleveland and, in addition to the obvious location difference, the Browns could have a significant injury edge as well, as the Ravens have lost right tackle Patrick Mekari and top cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the past week, while the Browns could get a much better performance out of Baker Mayfield after a bye week, which would be huge because Mayfield’s poor play was the biggest factor in the Browns not winning when these two teams met the last time. 

The Browns are favored this time, but only by 2.5 points and my calculated line has the Browns favored by 3.5 points, as, despite all of their injury absences, the Browns still rank 13th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, just behind the Ravens, who rank 11th, but are going in the wrong direction injury wise, while the Browns seem to be heading in the right direction. Just 8% of games are decided by two points or fewer, while about 1 in 6 are decided by exactly a field goal, so we’re getting good line value with the Browns as long as this line is under a field goal. There isn’t enough here to bet the Browns confidently, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes in a game in which they basically just have to win to cover this spread.

Cleveland Browns 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -2.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)

The Steelers are 5-5-1, but all five of their wins have come by one score, their five losses have come by an average of 13.6 points per game, and their tie came against the winless Lions. The Steelers’ only close loss came against the Chargers in a game in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. The Steelers other four losses all came in double digits.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 8-3, but they aren’t blowing teams out and have needed a 6-1 record in one score games to be where they are in the standings. The Steelers are missing stud edge defender TJ Watt and, without him, are one of the worst teams in the league, so we are getting some line value with the Ravens as 4.5-point road favorites, even with all of the close games they played, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Ravens’ final scores this season would have covered this spread in just four of eleven games. I don’t see this being a blowout, especially since Lamar Jackson has not been as good in his career against teams he has faced before, including the Steelers, but I would still pick the Ravens if I had to.

Update: Watt surprisingly will be able to play in this game, though it’s unclear if he’ll be 100%. Still, that is a big boost for the Steelers and yet the line has not moved, at least not yet. I am going to flip this pick to the Steelers, but this is still a no confidence pick, as the Steelers could easily get blown out again, even if the Ravens aren’t the kind of team that blows teams out.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +4.5

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

The Browns are 6-5, but they could easily have a couple more wins, as they have faced a tough schedule and have three one-score losses, including a pair of games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency rankings, which are based on yards per play and first down rate, more predictive metrics than point differential or winning percentage, the Browns rank 13th, 13th, 16th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 11th in mixed efficiency.

The Browns have slipped in recent weeks, especially on offense, but injuries have been the primary culprit and they figure to be a lot healthier this week. Not only will they get stud right tackle Jack Conklin and talented running back Kareem Hunt back from extended absences, giving them arguably their healthiest offensive supporting cast since the beginning of the season, but quarterback Baker Mayfield seems likely to be closer to 100% than he has been in recent weeks, practicing in full on Thursday and Friday and being left without an injury designation on this week’s injury report. 

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 7-3, but they have needed a 5-1 record in one score games to get there and rank 10th, 29th, 2nd, and 14th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. In fact, just three of their seven wins would have covered this 3.5-point spread and one of those was an overtime win where they won by six points after being down 22-3 earlier in the game. They are very overvalued as 3.5-point favorites against a capable opponent. 

My calculated line is even, with the Ravens getting a couple points for homefield advantage, but also being a couple points behind the Browns in my rankings, so we are getting a lot of value with the suddenly much healthier Browns at +3.5. This is a high confidence pick and one of my top plays of the week. The money line is also a great value at +165 (or close to that), as the Browns should be at worst considered a 50/50 shot to pull the upset and win this game.

Cleveland Browns 24 Baltimore Ravens 23 Upset Pick +165

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: High

Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at Chicago Bears (3-6)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. The Ravens are 6-3, but have just a +14 point differential and are not blowing teams out, winning just twice by more than six points, which is very relevant, considering they are 6.5 point favorites here in Chicago. On the other hand, the Bears might be bad enough to justify this line being that high, even with the Ravens not blowing teams out. The Bears are just 3-6 and rank just 26th in point differential at -74, while ranking 28th, 18th, 13th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency.

Things are only getting even worse on defense too, with both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now out for an extended period of time. This once dominant defense is a shell of its former self, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Mack and Hicks. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields and a subpar offensive line and skill position group. My calculated line has the Bears as 5-point favorites, so we are getting a little bit of line value with Chicago, but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Update: There have been several injury updates that will effect this game significantly. Previously listed as questionable, #1 wide receiver Marquise Brown was ruled out on Saturday, despite getting a limited practice in on Sunday. The Ravens will be without a pair of cornerbacks in Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith, who were both also questionable. More importantly, quarterback Lamar Jackson has been ruled out with an illness, despite returning to practice on Friday as well. Without two those on the Ravens’ offense, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so it’s surprising to see the Ravens still favored by 1.5 points on the road. Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is not a bad option, but he’s an obvious downgrade from Jackson and will be without his top receiver. I wouldn’t bet on the spread, but the money line is worth a bet higher than +100. You may need to lock this in quickly as news spreads of Jackson being inactive and spread bets bet push this line.

Chicago Bears 19 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-7)

The Dolphins won last week, but their 8-point victory over the terrible Texans does nothing to change my opinion of the Dolphins as one of the worst teams in the league. Their only other win this season came back in week one, by one point over the Patriots in a game in which the Patriots lost a pair of fumbles, but otherwise won the yards per play and first down rate battle by 0.6 and 2.56% respectively.

Meanwhile, of the Dolphins’ seven losses, only three came by one score: two games against the Jaguars and Falcons, among the worst teams in the league, and a game against the Raiders in which they lost the first down rate battle by 6.50% and the yards per play battle by 1.9. Overall, the Dolphins rank 30th, 25th, and 28th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively on the season.

The Dolphins were 10-6 a year ago, but a dropoff always seemed inevitable, as they faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%), and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), which was actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). They were always likely to disappoint this season and it’s not surprising they have done so in such a big way.

Unfortunately, the secret is out that this team is bad, so we’re not really getting much line value going against them. Baltimore is 6-2, but just two of their wins have come by more than a touchdown and, even though the Dolphins are the type of team they should beat easily, it’s also hard to be confident betting that they’ll be able to come on the road and win by multiple scores especially given how bad their defense has played this season, ranking 29th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency. 

The Ravens have more talent on paper than their defensive rank suggests and, on offense, the more predictive side of the ball, the Ravens rank 4th in schedule adjusted efficiency, while also ranking 2nd on special teams, so there are still reasons to take the Ravens for pick ‘em purposes, but I would need this line to at least drop to a touchdown to even consider betting the Ravens. My calculated line has the Ravens as 9-point favorites and eight isn’t really a key number.

Update: I realized after I wrote all of this that the Ravens are coming off of a long overtime game. Teams only cover on a short week about 17% of the time after an overtime game. We saw the Colts cover in this spot a week ago, but they nearly allowed a backdoor cover when they took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter and that was despite the Jets losing their starting quarterback to injury in the first half and despite the Jets being in a couple terrible spots, as non-divisional road underdogs on a short week and coming off of a huge home upset win. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have no significant trends working against them. We’re not getting line value with the Dolphins so this is a pure bet on a spot, but it’s such good spot that it’s worth at least a small bet.

Baltimore Ravens 31 Miami Dolphins 27

PIck against the spread: Miami +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (3-4) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

The Ravens have to follow up this game with a short week and a Thursday Night Football matchup, which usually isn’t good news for a favorite’s chance of covering the spread, as favorites have covered at just a 41.8% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football. However, the Ravens are only facing the lowly Dolphins, so next week’s game probably won’t be a huge distraction and, more importantly, the Ravens should also be completely well rested, not just coming off of a bye, but somehow in their fourth straight home game. Including the bye week, the Ravens haven’t had to travel for a game since their week 4 trip to Denver. 

There isn’t much data on teams in their fourth straight home game and even less so on teams in their fourth straight home game coming off of a bye, or with a bye at some point during the homestand, but teams in their third straight home game cover at a 54.9% rate and it stands to reason that trend would extend to the fourth straight. For the record, teams are 6-3 ATS over the past 30 seasons in their fourth straight home game, which is a small sample size, but it adds further evidence that this should be a good spot for the Ravens.

We’re also getting a little bit of line value with the Ravens at -6, as my calculated line has them as 7-point favorites. The Vikings have played better than their 3-4 record and haven’t lost by more than one score, but they just lost probably their best defensive player Danielle Hunter for the season, which hurts their outlook significantly going forward, and the Ravens are one of the better teams in the league, so they could easily hand them their first multi-score loss. There isn’t enough here to be confident betting the Ravens, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Baltimore Ravens 35 Minnesota Vikings 27

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6

Confidence: Low