There are a lot of good rivalries in the NFL. Over the last five or six years, though, the list of rivalries that have matched the wars that the Ravens and Steelers have played is very short. These teams really don’t like each other, and they have had a stranglehold on the AFC North. As is so often the case when these teams meet, this game will have a big say in which team ultimately wins the division. If the Ravens win they will have a healthy two-win cushion in the standings and it will be their division to lose. With a Steelers win, though, the teams will be tied and the season will essentially be reduced to six games. Baltimore has won their last two, while Pittsburgh hasn’t lost in four, so both teams come in on a high note.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Storylines
Well, at least the Steelers would come into the game on a high note if it weren’t for one big thing — Ben Roethlisberger was injured on Monday night, and the rest of his season is in jeopardy. He sprained his shoulder and dislocated a rib, and the latter injury could be a real problem. That means that the Steelers are stuck with a choice of two backup quarterbacks as their new starter — Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch. Leftwich has gotten the early nod, but he’ll only stay in that position as long as he performs because Batch is capable and reasonably proven with the team.
There are other storylines in this game beyond Big Ben, but there is so much to this story that it is by far the most important factor, and the one we’ll focus on here. There are three aspects to consider — what to expect from the replacements, how the team has fared without Roethlisberger, and how the public is likely to react.
The bad news on the replacement front is that Byron Leftwich hasn’t won a game since 2006. That’s a little misleading, though — he’s only 0-6 since, so the sample size isn’t big. He’s struggled with injuries the last few years, but he’s healthier now than he has been in a long time. Despite his underwhelming performance, Leftwich has the ability to be a good player. He’s smart, and he is reasonably comfortable in this system. He’s no Big Ben, but it would be a mistake to assume there will be a massive drop-off. If Batch is called on then we know what he can do because we have seen him fill in competently as recently as last year. Given how sound Batch has been for the Steelers, and how long he has been there, it is really a strong endorsement of Leftwich that he has been named starter.
If the Colts had to play without Peyton Manning in his prime, or if the Packers had had to play without Brett Favre back when he was brilliant and they didn’t bother with backups, then the loss of a star starting quarterback would be a real concern. Roethlisberger isn’t exactly an iron man, though. He has played 16 games just once in his nine-year career. The team would rather have him at the helm, but they aren’t going to be totally off guard without him. The stat that is being thrown around a lot is that the Steelers are 9-5 in this series in the nine years since drafting Big Ben when he has played, and 0-4 when he hasn’t. That’s quite misleading, though — three of the losses have been by a field goal, and the fourth was just by six points. In other words, they haven’t won without him, but they have come close. The Ravens are currently favored by 3.5 points, so the Steelers would be 3-1 ATS against that number without Roethlisberger.
Now, the public. In a word, the mood of the public can be described as panicked. They are overwhelmingly backing the Ravens, and they clearly have no faith in the replacements. A higher percentage of bets are on the Ravens than on any other team this week. Despite that heavy action the line hasn’t moved significantly, which is a clear indicator that the line was set pretty aggressively by the books in the first place in anticipation of the public panic. That doesn’t mean that you can’t bet on the Ravens if you want to. You just need to be aware that there is less value there than there might otherwise be.
Ravens at Steelers NFL Odds and Betting Trends
There was some wild early movement after the fate of Roethlisberger became clearer. After the chaos, though, the line settled with the Ravens giving up three points, and can now widely be found at 3.5 points. The totals line opened at 46 points, and has fallen significantly to 41 in early betting action.
Pittsburgh has lost the last two regular season games at home in this series and are just 2-3 ATS in the last five. Baltimore has covered their last two games this season, but had failed to cover five straight before that. The “over” is 9-3-1 ATS in the last 13 meetings between the teams.
Ravens at Steelers Predictions and Pro Football Betting Picks
The best value here is in the total. I’d let it fall as far as the public will let it then jump on the over. Pittsburgh won’t be incompetent on offense, and Baltimore is moving the ball with confidence, so the public is overcompensating here. The side is less attractive, but I lean towards the Ravens for one simple reason — I’d probably lean towards them even if the Steelers were at full strength. I’m only unenthusiastic because the line is inflated.
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