Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview and Pick

Baltimore Ravens (2-0) +7, NL O/U at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) -7, 34.5
O/U, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa., 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

by Badger of

With a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback the Baltimore
Ravens werent expected to be battling for first place in the AFC
North Division this early in the season, but thats exactly what they
will be playing for when they travel to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to
face the rival Steelers on ESPNs Monday Night Football.

The Ravens werent supposed to be the team sitting at 2-0 and atop
the AFC North standings, in fact, most people expected the Cleveland
Browns to be the team battling the Steelers for the division title.
But the Ravens sent a huge message last Sunday when they handed the
Browns an embarrassing 28-10 thrashing, using a 21-point third
quarter and a dominating Raven defense to send the Browns home
winless in 2008.

The Steelers come into the Monday Night game licking their wounds
after a disappointing 15-6 loss at Philadelphia last Sunday.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked nine times and the Steelers
could only muster 180 yards of total offense in the game, as the
Eagles handed them their first loss of 2008.

Roethlisberger left the game late in the fourth quarter with a right hand
injury (his throwing hand), which is why the game is completely off the board
at sportsbooks both in Las Vegas and offshore. Once the Steelers start practicing
again this week and oddsmakers are able to monitor his health, you can expect
some sort of line to come out by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.

Offensively this game could be ugly for the Steelers, especially if Roethlisberger doesnt play. Running back Willie Parker was held to just 20 yards last week in Philly after racking up back-to-back 100-
yard plus games the first two weeks. Despite just 33 yards rushing in
Philly, the Steelers are still the 15th-ranked rushing offense in the
league with a 111-yard average.

Roethlisbergers replacement, Byron Leftwich, was 4-of-7 for 60 yards late in the game last week, but without their starter the Steelers
looked very mediocre. Considering the fact that the Steelers were the
NFLs 27th-ranked offense in total yards with Roethlisberger, its
hard to imagine them getting better numbers (especially on the
ground) even with a proven backup like Leftwich.

Baltimore has been very patient with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco on offense so far in 08, relying on the 2nd-best rushing attack in the league (190.0 ypg) to try and take the pressure off of the rookie.
Flacco was 13-of-19 for 129 yards and 2 interceptions in the Browns
game last week, but the Ravens ran the 44 times to control the clock
and keep the Browns offense off the field.

If you like 3-and-outs and very little downfield attacking via the pass, then this may be the game for you because it will feature two of the NFLs best defenses against the run going against two offenses
that force-feed the ball on the ground.

The Ravens are ranked No. 1 in total yards allowed (161.5) and passing yards allowed (92.5) after two weeks, and ranked No. 2 in
points allowed with just 20 points scored against them so far in 08
(10 ppg). Last week versus the Browns the sacked Derek Anderson five
times and picked him off three times, holding one many thought would
be a potent Browns offense to just 169 yards of total offense.

The Steelers defense is ranked 4th overall in total yards (234 ypg)
and 3rd in points allowed (12.7 ppg), so its easily a matchup of two
of the leagues most dominating defensive squads. Last week in Philly
they held an Eagle team to just one touchdown and two field goals,
the same Philly team that put 37 points on the board versus Dallas
one week earlier.

These two teams split the season series last year, with the Steelers
winning big at home on Heinz Field (38-7) as 9-point favorites.
Pittsburgh is just 1-2 ATS so far this season, but their one cover
was at home back in week one. The Steelers were 6-3 ATS at home last
season, and are 12-2 ATS in its last 14 home games as favorites of
3.5 to 10 points.

Baltimore is a perfect 2-0 ATS this season, including last weeks win
over the Browns as 1-point favorites. This will be the first road
test for Flacco and rookie head coach John Harbaugh though, and the
road was very bad for the Ravens last year as they ended up 0-8 ATS
away from M&T Bank Stadium. In fact, the Ravens are 6-18 ATS in the
last three seasons on the road, and are just 5-18 ATS in the game
immediately following a game at home.

The over/under betting trends are contradicting as well. Despite one of the NFLs top defenses, the Steelers have come in over the total in 16 of their last 19 home games versus AFC foes. But when Baltimore
is a less than 7-point underdog, the Ravens have stayed under the
total for a 34-16 record since 1992. As you would expect with the
quality of their defenses, both teams are better under teams so far
in 08 (Pitt 1-2, Balt 1-1).

Badgers Pick: At time of print, there is no line on this game as Roethlisberger is questionable and Willie Parker appears to be OUT. Check back later!