Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to bet on the Browns. I had the Browns as the slightly better of these two teams, but the Steelers were being favored by a field goal at home, where they wouldn’t have any homefield advantage. The Steelers won one more game than the Browns this season, despite not even trying in their week 17 matchup with the Browns with the division locked up, and the Steelers have the edge in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.93% vs. -1.12%), but the Browns’ issues were primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.14%, while the Steelers’ issues were primarily concentrated on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 30th in first down rate over expected at -3.56%. 

Offensive performance is much more predictive than defensive performance, which was a good sign for the Browns’ chances going forward, compared to the Steelers. The Steelers did beat the Browns easily in their first matchup this season, winning 38-7 in week 6, and then last week the Steelers’ backups came within a 2-point conversion of tying the game late in a 24-22 Browns victory, but those scores don’t tell you the whole story. 

In the first matchup, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was playing at far less than 100% through an injury and he was missing stud running back Nick Chubb and key right guard Wyatt Teller. In the second matchup, the Browns actually won the first down rate battle by 6.18% and led 24-9 late before Pittsburgh converted two 4th downs and stopped the Browns on a 4th down attempt of their own, to make the final score look closer than the game was throughout. The Browns seemed to be underrated, with casual fans putting a lot of stock in the first two matchups between these teams. 

The Browns also seemed to be getting healthier, with stud running back Nick Chubb (4 games missed), key right guard Wyatt Teller (5 games), #1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry (1 game), starting left tackle Jedrick Wills (1 game), starting tight end Austin Hooper (3 games), edge defender Myles Garrett (2 games), top cornerback Denzel Ward (4 games), and safety Ronnie Harrison (5 games) all looking likely to play this game after missing significant time earlier in the season. Unfortunately, that changed very quickly.

Most of the aforementioned players will still play, but Ward is considered a gametime decision and Harrison is out due to COVID protocols, as is left guard Joel Bitonio, who is just as important to this offensive line as Teller, who could be playing at less than 100%. Also possibly at less than 100% is right tackle Jack Conklin, who didn’t practice at all on Friday. The Browns also lost talented starting defensive end Olivier Vernon to a torn Achilles and also won’t have head coach Kevin Stefanski and some key assistants. 

Despite all that, I could still be talked into taking the Browns, as this line has shifted appropriately by 3 points, favoring Pittsburgh by 6. My calculated line now has the Steelers favored by 2.5 or maybe 3 points, with the Steelers having nominal homefield only and being just 2 points better than the Browns in my roster rankings, even with the Browns at less than 100%. I’m not going to place a bet on the Browns just yet, but when I have confirmation of who is playing in this game for Cleveland, I may decide to place a bet at +6. The Steelers won half of their games by fewer than 6 points this season, including matchups against the Broncos, Cowboys, and the COVID depleted Ravens, so the Browns could definitely keep this game close, even if they can’t pull the upset.

Update: The Browns won’t have Denzel Ward or fellow cornerback Kevin Johnson this week, but they will have cornerback Terrance Mitchell, linebacker Malcolm Smith and right tackle Jack Conklin, who were all listed as questionable, while safety Ronnie Harrison, originally out after a positive COVID test, was confirmed to be a false positive and will play. With all of the Browns’ Sunday COVID testing out of the way, I feel comfortable placing a bet on the Browns at +6, which I am locking in now because the lines have dropped to 5 and 5.5 in some places.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cleveland Browns 20

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) at Cleveland Browns (10-5)

This one is a tough call and I don’t want to spend too much time on it because the Steelers will be resting most of their key players, with either the 2 or 3 seed locked in. The line has ballooned to Cleveland -9.5 with that news, even with the Browns losing several players, including most notably their top cornerback Denzel Ward, to the COVID list. Benefitting the Browns is that they are expected to get stud right guard Wyatt Teller back from a 2-game absence, which is a big key to their run based offense, as well as left tackle Jedrick Wills and their top-4 wide receivers, who missed last week on the COVID list and were badly missed along with Teller in a poor offensive showing in New York against the previously 1-win Jets. 

My calculated line would be Cleveland -2 in normal circumstances, as they have a slight talent edge over Pittsburgh, with Teller and without Ward, and have a slight homefield advantage with some limited fans in attendance. The question becomes if all of the starters that Pittsburgh is resting are worth 7.5 points to this game. That’s not really clear to me, nor is the effort level from the Steelers in what the coaching staff has telegraphed as a meaningless game by resting key players. It’s also possible Pittsburgh could play the Browns in back-to-back weeks if the Browns win this game and qualify for the post-season, so Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff are likely saving their better game plan for next week as well. I’m taking the points, but only because there is no reason to be confident in either side of this one.

Cleveland Browns 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 22

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +9.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)

The Steelers started 11-0, but they’ve been exposed over the past two weeks, losing to Washington and Buffalo in back-to-back games. They have a very good chance at getting back into the win column this week against the lowly Bengals, but whether or not they’ll cover this 13-point spread is the question. The Steelers are a defensive led team (2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.97%) that struggles on offense (29th in first down rate over expected at -2.92%), so they’re not built to blow teams out. Even when they were winning, just 3 of their 11 wins would have covered this 13-point spread, including 10-point or fewer wins over the Giants, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys, and the COVID depleted Ravens. The Bengals are arguably the worst team in the league, but I still have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -11, so we’re getting some line value with Cincinnati.

This is also a tough spot for the Steelers, in between last week’s tough game against the Bills and another big game against the Colts next week. The Bengals, meanwhile, only have the lowly Texans on deck. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate against opponents with a 35% winning percentage or worse when they next play an opponent with a winning percentage higher than 70% and when their opponent next plays an opponent with a winning percentage or 35% or less. 

On top of that, favorites cover at a 46.3% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 35%+ higher than their current opponent. I know the Steelers are coming off back-to-back losses and will want to end their losing streak, but I doubt anyone on this team really believes they can lose to the Bengals, so this might not be their best effort, in between two much tougher games. They can obviously still win without their best effort, but covering this spread is another thing.

The Bengals were blown out at home by the Cowboys last week, but teams typically fare better in their second straight game as home underdogs as compared to the first one, especially if they lost the first one. Home underdogs cover at a 54.1% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 58.9% rate after a loss by 20 points or more. Overall, home underdogs of a touchdown or more are 22-9 ATS after a loss by 20 points or more as home underdogs over the past 30 seasons. The Bengals are always a risky bet and there isn’t enough here for them to be worth betting confidently, but they should be the right side.

Update: This line has increased to 14 in most places. I’m more confident at that number, so this is worth a small bet.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)

These two teams are almost identical in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, with the Steelers ranking 5th at +2.37% and the Bills ranking 6th at +2.24%, but they do it in very different ways. The Steelers dominate on defense, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.72%, but their offense struggles, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.35%, while the Bills have a dominant offense, which ranks 2nd in first down rate over expected at +4.36%, but a defense that ranks just 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.11%. The Bills should be the better bet going forward though, purely because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance. 

It’s much more likely the Bills will have a strong defensive performance to complement their dominant offense than it is that the Steelers will have a strong offensive performance to complement their dominant defense and it’s also more likely that the Steelers’ defense will disappoint than the Bills’ offense disappointing, especially since the injuries are starting to pile up on Pittsburgh’s defense, with starting edge defender Bud Dupree, starting linebacker Robert Spillane, and starting cornerback Joe Haden all out. The Bills, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, especially on defense with top linebacker Matt Milano returning last week, a defense that in general has underperformed it’s talent level and could easily be better going forward because of that.

Given that, I had this game circled last week when the Bills were 2.5-point home underdogs on the early line, but the Bills’ big win against the 49ers and the Steelers’ loss to Washington shifted this line to Buffalo -1.5. That isn’t a massive swing, especially since it’s within the field goals (-3 and +3), but my calculated line is just Buffalo -2, so we’re not getting any real line value with the Bills. The most likely outcome is the Bills winning this game by a field goal, so they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to be confident in them.

Buffalo Bills 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -1.5

Confidence: None

Washington Football Team at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (4-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0)

Washington is just 4-7, but they’re the most competitive of the four teams in the NFC East, as their -2 point differential is significantly better than their record and significantly better than any other team in the division. If not for an 0-3 record in games decided by a field goal or less, Washington could easily be 5-6 or 6-5 right now, which isn’t amazing or anything, but it’s respectable. That’s despite the fact that they have struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and that are likely to improve going forward, with a -5 turnover margin (tied for 7th worst in the NFL) and a -14.77% net field goal conversion rate. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, Washington actually ranks 7th at +2.16%.

Washington is led by their defense, with a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.98% and an offense ranks just 25th in first down rate over expected at -1.82%, which is concerning because defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. It’s far from a guarantee that Washington will continue being that good defensively going forward, especially with key players like Matt Ioannidis and Landon Collins out for the year, but any regression by their defense could be offset by their offense, which has improved significantly since turning to Alex Smith under center. They’re also as healthy as they’ve been all season around the quarterback on offense, particularly on the offensive line. My roster rankings don’t have them quite as high as they rank in first down rate differential, but they still rank 17th, suggesting this is legitimately a middling team, despite their record and public perception.

Washington gets a big step up in competition this week in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers have yet to lose a game all season at 11-0, but the Steelers have played a lot of close games, with just two of their 11 wins coming by more than 10 points (both coming against two of the worst teams in the league in the Bengals and Jaguars) and 6 of their 11 wins coming by 7 points or fewer, which is notable, considering this line favors Pittsburgh by 7. Pittsburgh also hasn’t faced a tough schedule, facing the 2nd easiest schedule in the league in terms of opponents expected first down rate differential. If teams like the Jeff Driskel led Broncos, the Garrett Gilbert led Cowboys, the Texans, and the COVID Ravens can keep it within a touchdown with the Steelers, a team like Washington, who is much better than those four, should be able to do so as well.

The Steelers are also a defensive led team, with their defense leading the league in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.65%, but their offense ranking just 27th in first down rate over expected at -2.06%, actually behind Washington, even though Washington was starting Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen at the beginning of the season before Smith came in. The Steelers’ offensive struggles bring them down to 5th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.60%, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as their undefeated 11-0 record, which has been built in part by close wins over lesser opponents. Given that offensive performance is more predictive and the Steelers aren’t a significantly better offensive team, it’s hard to justify Pittsburgh being 7-point favorites in this one, especially since they’ll likely be without starting center Maurkice Pouncey and starting running back James Conner for the second straight week and won’t have the benefit of any fans in their home stadium.

This line has shifted significantly from favoring Pittsburgh by 11 on the early line last week, but I think that was just a bad line. The line movement seems to have been almost entirely driven by significant sharp action on the visitor and I don’t think it went far enough. Normally I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements like that, but, even at 7, we’re getting line value with Washington, as my calculated line is Pittsburgh -3.5, giving the Steelers a 3-point edge and about a half point for nominal homefield advantage. Washington is worth a big bet if you can get the full touchdown.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Washington Football Team 13

Pick against the spread: Washington +7

Confidence: High

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)

I did a double take when I saw this spread was posted at just a touchdown in favor of the Steelers, after the announcement of further COVID absences by the Ravens, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the rescheduling of this game to Tuesday Night. Originally, the Ravens were 4 point underdogs in this game, but somehow the absence of Jackson and others only moved this spread by 3 points. I was strongly considering betting the Steelers at -4 even with Jackson in the lineup, so getting them at just -7 now with backup Robert Griffin in the lineup is a great value.

I have been saying for weeks that the Ravens are overrated as their offense isn’t close to last year’s group. Even before losing their most important offensive player in Lamar Jackson, the Ravens were already down arguably their three most important offensive players from last year in right guard Marshal Yanda (retired), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (broken leg week 8), and tight end Nick Boyle (season ending knee injury week 10). With Jackson at quarterback all season, the Ravens have fallen all the way to 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.40%. Now also missing starting center Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda’s replacement at right guard Patrick Mekari, and two of their top-3 running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram due to positive COVID tests, the Ravens are going to have a very difficult time scoring against the Steelers league best defense.

The Ravens are still solid on defense, ranking 12th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.56%, but they’re not at 100% on that side of the ball either, with top defensive lineman Calais Campbell out and possibly fellow starting defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike as well. Campbell hasn’t played since week 9 and this defense hasn’t been the same without him. The Steelers aren’t without their own absences, most notably talented defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt who also tested positive for COVID, but it’s nothing close to what the Ravens are dealing with. My calculated line has the Steelers favored by 10.5 points, even with no fans in the stadium. I love Pittsburgh at 7 and even if you can’t get this line before it likely goes up, the Steelers should still be worth a bet this week, depending on how high it goes.

Update: Hopefully you locked this in when I did. The Ravens have been hit with additional positives and will also be without right tackle DJ Fluker, tight end Mark Andrews, and edge defender Matthew Judon. The Steelers have positives as well, but nothing compared to what the Ravens will be without. This line has shot up to 10 in some places, but I still don’t think that line is high enough, as the Ravens’ skeleton crew is going to have a very tough time being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

Update: Apparently my sportsbook (betonline . ag) cancelled this bet at 7. I am not sure why this happened because the additional COVID positives since I placed that bet were on both sides and relatively minor and I am not sure when it happened or why I wasn’t notified so I could make another bet at the new number. This is my first year with this book and I’ve had a variety of issues with them that I may go into at a later date depending on how they get resolved. If you weren’t lucky enough to lock this in at 7, this is still worth betting up to 10 (the line is 9.5 in some places), albeit not as much it was at Pittsburgh -7.

Already significantly worse than last season due to the absence of left tackle Ronnie Stanley, right guard Marshal Yanda, and tight end Nick Boyle, the Ravens will play this game without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, starting wide receiver Willie Snead, tight end and top target Mark Andrews, starting center Matt Skura, starting right guard Patrick Mekari, top defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, and edge defenders Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee, along with possibly running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram and right tackle DJ Fluker.

The Steelers aren’t at full strength either with stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt and starting running back James Conner both out and they haven’t blown out a lot of teams (3 wins by double digits), but this should be a 4th double digit win. My calculated line would have been Pittsburgh -6 even before the Ravens’ COVID absences and my new calculated line is Pittsburgh -12, even before taking into account that the Ravens haven’t really practiced, which probably should add 2-3 points to that total. The Steelers should be a safe bet up to 10 as this one shouldn’t be close.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 10

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)

The Steelers have consistently been one of the best teams in the league throughout Ben Roethlisberger’s 17-year tenure, but one thing that they’ve consistently had a problem with is playing down to the level of their competition on the road outside of the division. Since Roethlisberger’s first season in 2004, the Steelers are just 12-26 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a field goal or more, including 3-13 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a touchdown or more, which the Steelers are this week in Jacksonville. Not only do the Steelers have a poor ATS record in those games, but they’ve also lost 7 of the 16 games straight up, to much lesser opponents.

The Steelers are 9-0 this year, but we saw them just a couple weeks ago almost lose in Dallas as two touchdown favorites and, while they haven’t lost a game, they aren’t exactly blowing teams out either, with just two wins by more than 10 points, both coming against divisional opponents. Their +100 point differential is still 2nd in the NFL, but they haven’t faced a tough schedule and are slightly farther down in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 5th at +2.38%. 

The Steelers are obviously a good team, but they’re not the dominant team their record would suggest and they’re certainly capable of playing a close game with the Jaguars if they don’t play their best football. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league, but they have been better defensively in recent weeks since getting top linebacker Myles Jack and top edge defender Josh Allen back from injury and, while they’ll be without top cornerback CJ Henderson this week, that will somewhat be offset by the return of fellow cornerback DJ Hayden from injury.

Making the Steelers situation this week even tougher, they have to turn around and play a much bigger game on Thanksgiving on short rest against the Ravens. Favorites cover at just a 43.9% rate before Thursday Night Football, including 40.6% as favorites of more than a touchdown. The Steelers know they can beat the Jaguars even without their best effort, so why would they exhaust themselves trying to blow out a bad Jaguars team with another tough game on deck? Even if the Steelers can get out to a fast start, which they traditionally have not done in these types of games, we could see the Jaguars get a backdoor cover in the second half if the Steelers take their foot off the gas. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet, but the Jaguars should be the right side, especially if you locked it in at 10.5 like I did earlier this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

The Bengals are 2-5-1, while the Steelers are the league’s last remaining unbeaten team at 8-0, but the Bengals have been competitive in most of their games, losing just once by more than a touchdown, while the Steelers haven’t been blowing people out, with just one win by more than 10 points and five wins by one score or less. That’s despite the fact that the Steelers haven’t faced that tough of a schedule, including close contests with the Texans, the Jeff Driskel led Broncos, and the Garrett Gilbert led Cowboys. 

Given that both of these teams play a lot of games and that this line is 7, you might think I’m leaning strongly towards the Bengals, but the Bengals are worse than their box scores suggest, as their close losses to the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. The Bengals lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. They’ve also faced a relatively easy schedule and, in total, rank just 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.10%.

The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate at +2.22%. They’ve been carried by a defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.21%, while their offense ranks 28th in first down rate over expected at -1.99%, and typically defensive led teams are not as good of bets as offensive led teams because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, but the Steelers have been one of the best defenses in the league for a year and a half now and, even if they have some regression from their defense going forward, they should be able to more than compensate for it with improved offensive play, as my roster rankings suggest they’ve significantly underperformed their offensive talent this season. 

My calculated line is Pittsburgh -9, so we’re getting some line value with the Steelers at -7, and Pittsburgh is also in a good spot, with only an easy game against the Jaguars on deck. Since 2014, favorites of a touchdown or more are 56-31 ATS before being favorites of a touchdown or more again the following week, which the Steelers almost definitely will be again next week. It’s very tough for inferior teams to keep it close with superior teams when the superior team is focused without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. In a normal week, I might consider a bet on Pittsburgh, but with Ben Roethlisberger and others missing practice this week due to control tracing protocols, I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -7

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-5)

Last week, I picked the Cowboys as a low confidence pick as 11-point underdogs. My reasoning was that teams that fail to cover in their first 7 games tend to be solid bets going forward (62% all-time) because books know they can over-inflate their lines, as evidenced by the Cowboys being 11-point underdogs in Philadelphia against a middling at best Eagles team, but I also didn’t want to risk any money on a quarterback in Ben DiNucci who had never played before and might not be good enough to even be a backup in this league, which is why I limited it to a low confidence pick.

Sure enough, the game went as I expected, with the Eagles actually trailing 9-7 late in the third quarter and at one point leading by just 15-9 midway through the fourth quarter with the Cowboys driving, before DiNucci gave up a strip sack fumble that was recovered for a long return touchdown to not just secure the win for the Eagles, but to also push them to a front door cover. The Cowboys were probably the right side in that game because things like return touchdowns tend to be fluky on a week-to-week basis (not to mention that the touchdown easily could have been called back on replay), but I was also right to not bet any money on it, given the untrustworthiness of the Cowboys’ remaining healthy quarterbacks.

This game seems about the same to me, with the Cowboys being 14.5-point home underdogs against the Steelers. The Steelers haven’t lost all season, but they also have just one win by more than 10 points, including competitive games against lesser teams like the Giants, Broncos, and Eagles, so the Cowboys being competitive enough to keep this within two scores is certainly a possibility, especially if the Steelers look past the Cowboys, which they’ve had a tendency to do against lower ranked non-divisional opponents on the road in the Mike Tomlin era. Since Tomlin took over in 2007, the Steelers are just 5-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more and have lost 8 of those 20 games straight up. 

However, even though the Cowboys seem like the right side, I have no desire to place any money on it because I have no faith in whoever will start at quarterback this week, whether it be Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert this week, with Ben DiNucci getting the hook after one dismal game. Like last week’s game against the Eagles, this is a low confidence pick on the Cowboys. If they can avoid getting killed in the turnover battle and don’t give up any return touchdowns, I would expect this to be a little closer than most people think, but the Cowboys can’t be trusted to do that right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas +14.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-1)

The Steelers are the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, but they are still underdogs of 3.5 points in this game in Baltimore, 4 points at some points. That may sound unusual and it is, as this is the just 4th instance of an undefeated team being underdogs of this many points this late in the season over the past 30 seasons, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers are necessarily a smart bet, as the previous 5 teams to be underdog of this many points despite being undefeated in week 7 or later are just 1-3-1 ATS. That alone is not a reason to take the Ravens either, but it shows that there’s usually a good justification for an undefeated team being underdogs of this many points.

In this case, it’s perfectly understandable, as the Ravens are at home with at last some fan support and they are the defending AFC #1 seed, coming off of a 14-2 season, and their only loss this season came in Kansas City against the Chiefs, who are the defending AFC Champions. The Ravens played much worse in that game than the 34-20 final score suggests though, getting 11 points of value from special teams (return touchdown and a missed extra point and makeable field goal), not scoring on offense until the 4th quarter, and losing the first down rate battle by 9.54%. 

That Kansas City game significantly brings the Ravens down on the season in first down rate differential, as does their first down rate battle loss (-4.31%) to the Eagles in a mere 2-point win in the Ravens’ last game prior to their bye. A year after ranking far and away the best team in the league in first down rate differential (+6.34%), the Ravens rank just 17th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential in 2020 at +0.30%. The Steelers haven’t been much better though, despite not losing, ranking 13th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.45%. Despite facing one of the easiest schedules in the league, the Steelers have won just one game by more than 10 points and that came against a Browns team that was starting an injured Baker Mayfield. 

Both teams have lived up to expectations on defense, with the Steelers ranking 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at +4.72% and the Ravens ranking 7th at +3.21%, but they’ve been very disappointing on offense, ranking 29th at -3.28% and 27th at -2.91% respectively. Both teams should be better offensively going forward, but ultimately the Ravens should have a much higher ceiling on offense. The Steelers may have a slight edge on defense, but the Ravens are strong on that side of the ball too and are overall the better team. My calculated line is Baltimore -4, so we’re not getting much line value with the Ravens, but I do like that they’re coming off of a bye, as John Harbaugh at 20-8 ATS with extra time to plan. That’s not enough for the Ravens to be worth betting, but they should be the better pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Baltimore Ravens 25 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3.5

Confidence: Low