Just two games this Sunday on the Christmas holiday: Baltimore at Pittsburgh with a 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff and then Denver at Kansas City in the Sunday night game. I looked at Broncos-Chiefs a few Sunday nights ago in Denver, a crazy Chiefs win, so I want to really examine the Steelers game because they were my preseason pick to win the AFC title. And if Pittsburgh doesn't win this game, it might not be in the playoffs at all.
But if the Steelers (9-5) do win here, they will be AFC North champions. And if so, they are almost surely locked into the No. 3 spot, meaning a home playoff game against the second wild-card team, which is currently Miami. Pittsburgh would also win the division with a loss to Baltimore as long as the Steelers beat the visiting Browns in Week 17 (about as close to a lock as possible) and the Ravens lose at the eliminated Bengals (maybe). Pittsburgh is -550 to win the North at BetOnline with Baltimore at +400.
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A wild-card spot is possible for the Steelers if they lose Sunday and win over Cleveland and Baltimore also wins Week 17. But Pittsburgh would need either the Dolphins or Chiefs to lose their last two games. In that scenario, the Steelers need a three-way tiebreaker at 10-6, which they would win, rather than any head to head involving Miami because the Dolphins beat the Steelers earlier this year.
The Ravens (8-6) know if they win out, they take the North. It's possible for them to finish 1-1 and earn a wild-card spot, but they would need the following to happen: Miami to lose its final two games (at Bills, vs. Patriots) and Denver to lose one of its final two (at Chiefs, vs. Raiders). Basically, if the Ravens don't win the AFC North, they just have to make sure no one else fighting for the final wild-card spot gets to 10 wins because they have the tiebreaker advantage over all the teams that can finish 9-7.
Baltimore hasn't won a road game since Sept. 25, so I'm not confident it will finish 2-0. I believe if this team misses the postseason again that the Ravens and Coach John Harbaugh might mutually part ways for a fresh start for both. I keep hearing Harbaugh (not his brother Jim) linked to the Rams.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Story Lines
Baltimore concluded its home schedule with a very fortunate 27-26 win over Philadelphia last Sunday. That game shouldn't have been close at the end. Joe Flacco can be an excellent QB at times and he has a Super Bowl ring and SB MVP Award to show for it. But, man, he makes stupid decisions at times. Up 27-17 with first-and-10 at the Eagles 11 and around six minutes left, that game is probably over just with a field goal. But Flacco threw it right to an Eagles linebacker.
That led to a Philly field goal. Then the Eagles got a stop and pulled within 27-26 with four seconds left. The Ravens caught a break that Philly coach Doug Pederson wanted to make a statement to his eliminated team by going for 2, and the Carson Wentz pass was incomplete. Had Baltimore lost that game, Harbaugh's seat is really hot. But sometimes you need to be lucky and good. To be fair to Harbaugh, he doesn't call the offensive plays, Marty Mornhinweg does. But the head coach admitted it was the "All-time worst call ever. I'll take responsibility for it. I should have vetoed it right away. I like an aggressive mindset, but that was way too aggressive." The Baltimore offense isn't good enough to win many games when the Ravens' excellent defense allows more than 24 points. That was the first time this year it happened. Speaking of that defense, it was without top cornerback Jimmy Smith last week due to injury, and it's still not clear if he will play Sunday. The Ravens' secondary has looked far more vulnerable without Smith on the field. He has missed two other games as well.
If there's any need for added motivation this week for the Steelers, they could rest their key guys next week vs. the Browns (who surely would appreciate that) if they can clinch the division. Pittsburgh won in Cincinnati last week, 24-20, for its fifth straight victory -- four of those away from home. I watched that game, and the Steelers were totally flat in the first half, trailing 20-9 at the break. But obviously the Bengals didn't score again. There's some concern if you back the Steelers that they had to settle for six Chris Boswell field goals. But one Ben Roethlisberger TD pass to Antonio Brown was called back by penalty. Tight end Ladarius Green suffered a concussion in the game, so he's very iffy for this one. He has emerged as the No. 2 option in the passing game, with at least 65 receiving yards in three of his past four games.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 5-point favorite (-110) with a total of 44. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -230 and Ravens +190. On the alternate lines, the Steelers are -5.5 (-105) and -4.5 (-115). Baltimore is 6-8 against the spread (1-5 on road) and 6-7-1 "over/under" (3-2-1 on road). Pittsburgh is 9-5 ATS (4-2 at home) and 4-10 O/U (2-4 at home).
The Ravens have covered seven straight inside the division. They are 6-17 ATS in their past 23 in December. The Steelers are 4-0 ATS in their past four after a win. They are 13-3 ATS in their past 16 December games. The under is 5-1 in Baltimore's past six vs. the AFC North. It's 6-2 in Pittsburgh's past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The home team is 4-1-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 3-0-1 in the previous four.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Prediction
The Ravens have won the last three meetings against the Steelers in which they were underdogs, dating to the playoffs following the 2014 season. This year, the Ravens were 3-point underdogs at home in November and the beat the Steelers, 21-14, to end a four-game losing streak. Big Ben had returned much earlier than expected from a torn ligament in his knee and was terrible for three quarters. Two garbage TDs made it respectable. Baltimore didn't do much offensively, either, other than a Mike Wallace 95-yard TD catch-and-run. There were less than 560 total yards in the game and 28 total first downs.
It will be in the 40s in Pittsburgh on Sunday with a chance of rain. I certainly love the under as Baltimore's defense is one of the NFL's best and the Steelers have allowed 14 points per game during the winning streak. Give the 4.5-point alternate line as Pittsburgh takes the division.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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