Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) at Baltimore Ravens (13-2)

The Ravens’ season got off to an unspectacular start, as they were just 2-2 through 4 games, including a blowout week 4 loss against the Browns, but they have won 11 straight games since then and have the #1 seed in the AFC already locked up before week 17, allowing them to rest key players in a game that is meaningless for them. For the Steelers, this game is the opposite, as they are one of three teams still alive for the 2nd wild card spot in the AFC. Losing this game won’t eliminate the Steelers, as they can still make the post-season if the Titans and Raiders lose and the Colts win, and winning this game won’t guarantee them a post-season spot, as the Titans would hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers if both teams win, but the Steelers’ path to the post-season is certainly easier with a win. 

The common logic seems to be that because the Steelers need this game and the Ravens don’t that the Steelers will be able to prevail and, as a result, they are favored by 2 points on the road in Baltimore. It’s difficult to come up with a calculated line for a game in which one side will be playing several unproven backups, but I have this line calculated at Baltimore -1.5. For this line to be accurate at Pittsburgh -2, the Ravens would have to rank around 27th or 28th in my roster rankings and even at far less than 100% I don’t think they are that bad. They can’t rest everyone and this is a deep roster with great schemes on both sides of the ball.

The Steelers obviously have the edge on defense, as they have one of the top stop units in the NFL, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed at 32.64%, but Baltimore’s offense is still better than the Steelers offense even with backups in the lineup. As good as the Steelers defense is, their offense is equally bad, maybe even more so. They rank 30th in the NFL in first down rate at 31.42% and are starting overmatched undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges at quarterback. 

Baltimore backup quarterback Robert Griffin is far more experienced and proven at the NFL level, even if he is just a backup caliber talent. I’m not expecting Griffin to suddenly become the quarterback he was when he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 over Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, but I’m excited to see how he performs in extended action in a scheme that actually fits his abilities and what we’ve seen from him in limited action and the pre-season has been promising. I don’t want to bet on the Ravens because of the uncertainty over how some of their backups will perform, but they should be the right side in this one.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +2

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6) at New York Jets (5-9)

The Jets had intentions of competing in 2019, after an off-season spending spree, but they’ve had a disappointing season and sit at just 5-9, out of the playoff race entirely, with two weeks left in the season. They’ve actually been even worse than their record suggests, ranking 27th in first down rate differential at -4.15%, despite having tied for the easiest schedule in the league, with a 43% combined opponents record. 

Part of that is they were without quarterback Sam Darnold for 3 games early in the season, but his return hasn’t come close to solving all of their problems. Since week 7, they rank 18th in first down rate differential at -1.06%, which isn’t terrible, unless you consider that they’ve faced teams that rank 22nd or worse in first down rate differential in 7 of 9 games over that stretch. The two exceptions were the Patriots and Ravens, games against top level teams in which they lost the first down rate battle by 10.27% and 22.84% respectively.

This week the Jets face the Steelers. On offense, the Steelers resemble the terrible teams the Jets have mostly faced in recent weeks, ranking 26th in first down rate at 31.87%, but defensively they resemble the Patriots and Ravens, ranking 5th in first down rate allowed at 33.15%. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -3, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visiting Steelers, who are favored by 2.5 points, but there’s isn’t nearly enough here for this game to be worth betting. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 13 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2.5

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

The Bills only lost by a touchdown at home last week to the AFC leading Ravens and they even had a shot to tie the game at the end, getting stopped on 4th down on the Ravens’ 18-yard line to end the game, but the Bills weren’t quite as competitive in that game as the end result suggests. The Ravens held a 15 point lead into the middle of the 4th quarter and won the first down rate battle by 10.59%. The Ravens had more first downs (18 to 16) and more offensive touchdowns (3 to 1), despite running 9 fewer offensive plays (68 to 59). The Bills’ defense was impressive in holding the Ravens to just 4.4 yards per play, but their offense managed a pathetic 3.1 yards per play.

Even with last week’s game against the now 12-2 Ravens included, the Bills are still tied with the Jets for the easiest schedule in the NFL at 42% and they haven’t fared well against average or better opponents. In their 6 matchups against opponents that are currently 6-7 or better, they are just 2-4 with a -2.18% first down rate differential, as opposed to 7-0 with a +6.28% first down rate differential in their other 7 games (combined opponents record of 22-70).

With that in mind, the Bills could have some real trouble this week on the road in Pittsburgh against the 8-5 Steelers. The Steelers looked dead in the water after a 1-4 start, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberer out for the season, but those four teams they lost to turned out to be 4 of the best teams in the NFL (Patriots, Seahawks, 49ers, and Ravens) and they’ve won 7 of 8 games since, including wins over competent opponents like the Colts, Rams, and Browns. 

Their defense leads the way, ranking 8th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 33.41%. Since their week 7 bye, they’ve been even better defensively, ranking as the 2nd best defense in the league in first down rate allowed over that stretch at 30.23%. Their offense has been a different story, as they rank 27th in first down rate at 32.16% on the season, but they’ve played significantly better with Devlin Hodges under center than they did with Mason Rudolph under center. Not only does Hodges have a QB rating about 23 points higher than Rudolph, but he’s led the Steelers to a 36.53% first down rate in his 3 starts (3-0), as opposed to a 30.94% first down rate in their other 10 games. 

Hodges was supposed to be getting running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster back from injury this week and I was considering the Steelers as my Pick of the Week as a result, but Smith-Schuster had a setback in practice and will not return this week. Still, the return of Conner should help this offense and with wide receivers James Washington and Diontae Johnson showing more in recent weeks, the absence of Smith-Schuster isn’t as big of a deal.

The Steelers will not be my Pick of the Week this week, but I do think they’re worth betting on. At the very least, these two teams should be considered about even, but I give the slight edge to the Steelers because they’ve shown more competence in tough games and because they’ve been a better team since changing quarterbacks. This line, favoring the Steelers at home by just one point, suggests the Bills are the better team. My calculated line is Pittsburgh -3.5 and with about 20% of games decided by 2-3 points, we’re getting pretty significant line value with the Steelers at -1. This isn’t a huge play, but this spread definitely seems off.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Buffalo Bills 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -1

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)

The Steelers looked dead in the water after week 5, with a 1-4 record and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, but they’ve won 6 of 7 games since then to climb back into playoff contention. Their early season losses don’t look so bad anymore either, as they all came against teams that are currently 10-2 (Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens), with only the Patriots game being decided by more than a field goal. The Steelers haven’t had a tough schedule over the past 7 games since their tough start to the season, but they have picked up a pair of wins over .500 or better teams in the Colts and Rams over that stretch. 

With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers defense has led the way, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.42%, led by an All-Pro caliber trio of Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Their defense has been even better in the past several weeks, leading the league with a 29.76% first down rate allowed since week 7, even more impressive when you consider they lost stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the season after week 5. The Steelers’ offense has the 3rd worst first down rate over that stretch at 29.84%, but they switched quarterbacks last week from backup Mason Rudolph to undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who seems to be an upgrade, even if only by default. 

The Steelers’ schedule continues to be relatively easy, with a matchup against the Cardinals this week. Not only are the Cardinals 3-8-1, but their 3 wins came by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 6-30. In their 8 losses, they have been outscored by 13.25 points per game. They rank 28th in point differential at -96 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.60% and are one of the worst few teams in the league. The Steelers’ offensive issues keep them in the middle of the pack in my roster rankings, but the Cardinals rank 30th and I have them calculated as 4.5-point underdogs in this matchup. It might not seem like we’re getting a ton of line value with the Steelers at -2, but about 20% of games are decided by 2-4 points, so those are a significant two points. The Steelers are worth a small bet this week in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

A week ago, the Steelers were favored in this game by a field goal on the early line. That line made sense, as the Browns were favored by a field goal in the first matchup between these two teams a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. Three points for homefield advantage is standard, so both of those lines suggested these two teams were about even. However, this line has since shifted all the way to Cleveland -2.5 this week, suggesting a significant difference between these two teams.

I don’t really understand that line movement. The Browns blew out the Dolphins last week in Cleveland, but that’s not all that impressive. The Steelers had an underwhelming performance in Cincinnati, but still managed a 6-point win as 6.5 point favorites. It’s possible this line movement has a lot to do with the Steelers benching Mason Rudolph for Devlin Hodges, but that could ultimately prove to be an upgrade. Although he’s seen very limited action, Hodges has a QB rating 17 points higher than Rudolph so far this season. Over the past 6 weeks, the Steelers have a first down rate of just 28.66%, second worst in the NFL over that span, so it would be hard for Hodges to be a significant downgrade. At the same time, the Steelers have the best defense in the league in terms of first down rate allowed at 29.35% over that time span, so they can definitely win games even without great quarterback play.

In the previous matchup between these two teams, the Browns won 21-7 at home, but that’s primarily because they won the turnover margin by 4 (due to 4 Rudolph interceptions) in a game in which the Browns actually lost the first down rate battle by 0.28%. That’s despite the fact that they had defensive end Myles Garrett in that game and he’ll be a very notable absence (for multiple reasons) from this matchup. The Browns could get fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon back from a 3-game absence, but that’s far from a guarantee, after he was limited in practice all week and he’s not the same caliber player as Garrett. The Browns will also be without both of their starting safeties from the previous matchup, with Morgan Burnett out for the season with a torn Achilles and Damarious Randall listed as out for disciplinary reasons. 

The Steelers won’t have running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but both of those players barely played in the first matchup and the Steelers still were able to play about even in first down rate on the road. If Hodges can avoid throwing 4 interceptions like Rudolph did, the Steelers have a good chance to win this game at home. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re not getting quite enough line value with the Steelers for them to be worth betting, but if this line moves up to 3 and/or Vernon is ruled out I would reconsider.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cleveland Browns 16 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-10)

The Bengals are six games away from becoming the third team all-time to lose every game in a 16-game season. Ordinarily, winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season, going 56-32 ATS in week 9 or later in the past 30 seasons, as they tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and hungry for a win. The Bengals have faced the toughest schedule in the league by DVOA and 5 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or fewer. That being said, it’s hard to get excited about betting on the Bengals with fourth round rookie Ryan Finley under center.

When the Bengals benched Andy Dalton for Finley, it was not a move the Bengals made to give themselves a better chance of winning in 2019. In a lost season, it was all about giving Finley a chance before deciding whether or not to use their upcoming high draft pick on another quarterback. Dalton had the worst quarterback rating of his career before being benched, but he also had by far the worst supporting cast of his career. Even in a down statistical year for Dalton, his QB rating is 26.4 points higher than Finley’s and his YPA is 2.1 yards higher.

Even still, we’re getting some line value with the Bengals, as the Steelers are missing their top-2 offensive skill position players, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers have a solid defense, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed, but they haven’t been as good as they’ve appeared, as they’ve been overly reliant on takeaways (26, 2nd in the NFL), which are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Steelers are also in a tough spot, with this game sandwiched between last week’s emotional rivalry game against the Browns and next week’s rematch. They might not bring their best effort for a 0-10 Bengals team. I wouldn’t bet on the Bengals, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 22 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-6)

This is going to be one of my lowest confidence picks of the week. Not only do I not have a strong lean either way, but Thursday games have been tough to predict this season, as I am just 2-7 ATS on Thursday this season, dating back to week 2. The Browns’ 3-6 record is in part the result of a tough schedule (5th highest opponent’s DVOA), but a lot of their losses haven’t been close, as they have an average margin of defeat of 14.67 points per game rank 25th in point differential at -50. 

The Steelers’ 5-4 record is largely the result of a +13 turnover margin, 2nd best in the NFL, and turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, but even in first down rate differential the Steelers hold slight edge, ranking 22nd at -2.52%, while the Browns rank 26th at -3.20%. The Steelers haven’t faced a cupcake schedule either, with the 15th highest opponent’s DVOA, and they have a solid +42 point differential since being blown out week 1 by the Patriots. The also hold the slight edge in my roster rankings, ranking 16th, while the Browns rank 21st. 

This line, favoring the Browns at home by 2.5 points, suggests the Steelers are the slightly better team, which is about right. I have this line calculated at Cleveland -1.5, but that’s barely any line value, as only about 4% of games are decided by exactly 2 points. If the Browns had defensive end Olivier Vernon healthy, I’d pick them because that would mean the Browns would be as healthy as they’ve been all season, but he is a big absence, as the Browns lack capable players behind him on the depth chart. The Steelers would be my pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I don’t like either side that much.

Cleveland Browns 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5

Confidence: None