Tonight, Baltimore and Pittsburgh renew what has become one of the best and most hotly contested rivalries in all of football. If you don’t believe me, here is the margin of victory for the last 10 games between them: 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 28, 7, 3, 3, 3. Outside of one outlier, this series has been incredibly close throughout the past 5 years. With that in mind, taking the points whenever these two meet is normally is very sound strategy.
However, I like the Ravens to win and cover the number tonight for a couple of reason. First, Baltimore is a very underrated home team. They’re 20-5 straight up in their last 25 home games, with their only two losses last year coming to Green Bay and New England. Their against the spread record is not as good recently, but when the number is as low as 2.5, it seems like a straight up win will likely mean a cover as well.
I also think the Ravens are just flat out a better team than the Steelers. I was unimpressed with how the Steelers looked last weekend against the Browns as they struggled to contain the run virtually all game. Ben Tate, Terrence West, and Isaiah Crowell combined for 173 yards and 2 TDs on only 27 carries (6.4 YPC.) The Browns may have been able to win the game behind their strong rushing attack if not for falling into a 27-3 hole in the first half. Meanwhile, Baltimore played a tough game against a strong Cincinnati Bengals team. The Ravens struggled mightily early, but the offense seemed to pick up after benching Bernard Pierce for Justin Forsett. With the run game producing, Baltimore was able to open up some opportunities for Joe Flacco to find Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith, and Torrey Smith.
I think the Ravens will have a much easier time establishing the run against the Steelers then they did against the Bengals, and that should lead to some easier throws for Flacco. The Steelers have a reputation of being a great defensive team, but they’re a shell of their former selves. Troy Polamalu is a name only at this point, James Harrison and Lamar Woodley are gone, and early draft picks like Jarvis Landry have so far been unable to fill their shoes. Ike Taylor is also routinely beaten like a drum, and if they line him up on Torrey Smith, he’s going to have a long evening.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Ray Rice scandal. As far as the game itself goes, the Ravens aren’t losing anything since Rice would have been suspended for this game anyway. However some people are saying that this will serve as a distraction for the rest of the players on the team. Personally, I think it’ll be a relief. Now they don’t have to worry about what Rice did and what’s going to happen when he comes back because he’s gone for good. All the negative press may even serve as a motivating factor for the rest of this Baltimore team that has done nothing wrong (at least in this case.) It’s unfortunate that we have to take things like this into account because it makes what Rice did seem trivial, and unlike the NFL I have no intention of minimizing what he did. But part of being a successful handicapper is taking all factors into account, even ones that we’d prefer to not think about.
The bottom line is the Ravens are the better team, at home, and need a win to avoid falling 2 games behind in the division. I think they’ll get it done.
The Pick- Baltimore Ravens -2.5 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Thursday Night Season Record (1-0)
Last Week- Seahawks -6- Win