Baltimore Ravens (8-6, 8-6 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7, 4-10 ATS), NFL Week 16, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 27th, 1 PM Eastern, CBS
By Z-Man of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Steelers -2 1/2/Ravens +2 1/2
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The defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive for this season with a last-second victory over Green Bay last Sunday. Now they’ll try to use whatever momentum they gained from that victory to make a late-season push toward the playoffs when they host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC North Division clash Sunday afternoon at the Big Ketchup Bottle.
Online sportsbooks across the spectrum opened this game with Pittsburgh favored by from one to three points, with a total of from 39 to 41. As of Thursday morning most NFL betting outlets were listing the Steelers at -2 , with a total of 42.
Pittsburgh is also being offered at right around -145 on most moneylines, with Baltimore getting +125 to win outright.
The Ravens started 3-0 this season, then lost three straight by a total of 11 points to the Patriots, Bengals and Vikings, all of whom seem headed to the playoffs. Baltimore then alternated wins and losses for six weeks, but has won two in a row after pounding Chicago last week 31-7.
So the Black Birds, at 8-6, sit a game back of first-place Cincy in the AFC North, although the Bengals hold the tie-breaker over Baltimore, having swept the season series. More importantly, the Ravens also own the five seed in the AFC playoff standings, a game ahead of six teams, including Pittsburgh, who all sit at 7-7.
The Steelers began their defense of their league championship by losing two of their first three games, then won five straight to get to 6-2. Pittsburgh then proceeded to lose five in a row, two in overtime and all by a touchdown or less. But last week the Steelers got a Ben Roethlisberger TD pass on the last play of the game to beat Green Bay 37-36 and get back to .500 on the season.
So Pittsburgh is wedged in a six-way tie with the Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, Titans and Texans, all one game behind Baltimore and Denver in the AFC wild-card race.
Unfortunately for Steelers financial backers, they’ve been the worst team in the league, along with the Chicago Bears, to bet on, going just 4-10 vs. the pointspreads this season.
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, in his sophomore season as a pro, has completed 64% of his passes for 7.4 YPA, with 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 89.9 passing rating.
His counterpart Sunday, Big Ben, has had a lot put on his shoulders this season, and has done well under that pressure. So far this season Ben has hit on 67% of his throws for 8.6 YPA, which ranks behind only San Diego’s Rivers and New Orleans’ Brees, with a 22/11 TD/INT ratio and a 100.6 rating.
On the season Baltimore is outgaining opponents on average by a 355-300 YPG margin, and outrushing foes 128-100.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are outgaining opponents 375-304 and outrushing them 110-83.
Last year Pittsburgh beat the Ravens three times, twice in the regular season by scores of 23-20 and 13-9, and in the AFC championship game 23-14. But in the first meeting between these two division rivals this season a month ago in Baltimore, the Ravens beat the Roethlisberger-less Steelers 20-17 in overtime.
Despite the reputations of these two teams as being defensive-minded, six of the last seven games in this series have gone OVER the posted totals. That’s mainly because the over/unders on those last seven games have averaged right around 35.
The totals are 6-8 in Ravens games this season, which have averaged 41 points, and 8-6 in Steelers games, which have averaged 42.5 points.
The Ravens are rated at 28.0 on the Sagarin PURE POINTS rankings at USAToday.com, Pittsburgh at 20.3. Factoring in Sagarin’s updated NFL home-field advantage figure of 2.5, and Baltimore is favored by five points over the Steelers on the Sagarin line.
Zman’s Pick: I believe the game comes down to a very small margin of victory for either team. Take Baltimore to cover the spread.