The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't repeated as AFC North champions since 2007-08; that '08 team won Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl. I don't think they are repeating as division champions now, either. Or probably making the playoffs after losing Ben Roethlisberger for 4-6 weeks due to a strained MCL in his left knee.
That injury has dramatically affected the line for Thursday night's game against rival Baltimore. I'll let John Lester, senior lines manager for Bookmaker.eu, explain why Pittsburgh is a 2.5-point dog:
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"The loss of Roethlisberger is huge. He's worth at least seven points to a spread because of the offense Pittsburgh runs and the fact that backup Michael Vick is a bottom-tier replacement," Lester said. "If Big Ben isn't available, the offense will struggle. Prior to the injury, we were looking to make the home team between a six- and 7-point favorite."
The Ravens 100 percent have to win this game at 0-3. No 0-4 team has made the playoffs in the current format. Just 2.4 percent of teams to start 0-3 since 1990 have made it.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Story Lines
You probably have seen the play on which Roethlisberger was hurt in Sunday's 12-6 win at the Rams. I wouldn't say it was a dirty below-the-knees hit by Rams safety Mark Barron, but it was a bit questionable. He wasn't penalized, however, and as of this writing hasn't been fined by the NFL. It happened with 5:35 left in the third quarter as Barron was sacking Big Ben on a blitz. It looked bad right away. Roethlisberger also has a bone bruise.
Obviously, there's no such thing as a good time for your franchise quarterback to be injured, but this is really an inopportune moment. There's this short-week turnaround game against a desperate Ravens team. Then a trip to San Diego in Week 5, home game vs. Arizona in Week 6 and at Kansas City in Week 7. The Steelers could easily lose all four of those with Vick under center; and that's assuming Big Ben only misses those four. In Week 8, the Steelers host Cincinnati, the -200 division favorite at Sportsbook.ag (Pittsburgh is now +300).
Vick is just 6-13 in his past 19 starts overall. He was one of the lowest-rated QBs in the NFL last year in spot duty with the Jets, completing just 52.9 percent of his passes for 604 yards, three TDs and two picks. To be fair, that Jets team didn't have anywhere near the firepower on offense that Pittsburgh does. Expect the Steelers to really rely more on All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell now. Bell made his season debut off suspension vs. the Rams, rushing 19 times for 62 yards and a score while catching seven balls for 70 yards. The defense also is going to have to raise its game.
Might Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh be in a bit of trouble? I doubt it with how successful the team has been under him, but there's no question the Ravens are the most disappointing team in the NFL right now. It's the first time that Baltimore is 0-3 -- it had been the only current team to never start 0-3.
Then again, the Ravens aren't far from being 3-0. Baltimore lost by only six in Week 1 at Denver, by four in the final minute at Oakland in Week 2 and then 28-24 in the home opener this past Sunday against the Bengals. Joe Flacco was good against Cincinnati, completing 32 of 49 passes (65.3 percent) for 362 yards and two touchdowns for a 92.4 passer rating. Both of Flacco's touchdowns went to wide receiver Steve Smith, who had 13 receptions (tying team record) for 186 yards. In the past seven playoff or regular season games where Flacco has thrown the ball 40 times or more, the Ravens are 0-7. During his career, the Ravens are 7-15 in games during which Flacco has had 40 or more attempts. But Baltimore is struggling to run the ball right now. Justin Forsett is starting to look like a one-year wonder as he's averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.
The Ravens have won six of the past 10 regular-season meetings with Pittsburgh. The teams split them last year, each winning easily. The Steelers had their worst offensive game of the year in a 26-6 loss in Baltimore but then stomped the Ravens 43-23 in Pittsburgh behind six Big Ben TD passes. The Ravens then went to Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional round and pulled off a 30-17 upset in a game in which the Steelers were sans an injured Bell.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Ravens are 2.5-point favorites (-115) with a total of 43.5. Baltimore is -140 on the moneyline. For alternate lines, the Ravens are -4 (+143), -3.5 (+135), -3 (+110), -2 (-120), -1.5 (-125) and -1 (-133). The Ravens are 0-3 against the spread this season and 2-1 "over/under." The Steelers are 3-0 ATS and 1-2 O/U.
Baltimore is 2-6 ATS in its past eight on Thursday. The Ravens are 1-4-1 ATS in their past six vs. the AFC North. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four after a loss. The Steelers are 7-1 ATS in their past eight. They are 2-5 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 6-2 in Pittsburgh's past eight on Thursday.
Free NFL Picks: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Betting Predictions
Pittsburgh has won its past three outright at home as an underdog. One of those was last year against the Colts. The last time the Steelers were home dogs to Baltimore was November 2012 and the Ravens won 13-10. These games are usually very close, which made last year unusual. Seven of the past 10 regular-season games have been decided by three or fewer points. I just don't think Vick has anything left and that the Ravens will be playing so desperate. So give the 2.5 points. Go under the total.
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