Baltimore Ravens (0-3 SU, 0-3 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1 SU, 3-0 ATS)
NFL Week 4
Date/Time: Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 8:25PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
TV: NFL Network
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL -2.5/PIT +2.5
Over/Under Total: 44.5
The Baltimore Ravens meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC North battle on Thursday Night Football. Both teams come into this game off the short week. On Sunday, Pittsburgh went to 2-1 after earning a tough 12-6 win on the road at St. Louis in what proved to be a costly victory with loss of QB Ben Roethlisberger for at least 4 weeks due to a knee injury. They will now soldier ahead with Michael Vick at QB. Baltimore is just looking for their first win, after losing at home on Sunday to Cincinnati. Needless to say, this is an important game for the Ravens, who entered 2015 with the idea of being a contender.
Its been a painful season thus far for the Ravens. Each game theyve lost has been close and there for the taking. It just hasnt worked out yet. They had to open the season with two road games, always a dangerous proposition. In week one, they led Denver in the second half, eventually losing, 19-13. In week two, Oakland needed late game dramatics to beat Baltimore late. And this past Sunday, they led in the 4th quarter again, before a late Andy Dalton TD throw to AJ Green gave the Bengals the lead. Do you take comfort from the fact that they could have won all three games this season or do you condemn them for a lack of clutch and an inability to deliver the win?
Its unclear how to perceive Pittsburgh moving forward for the next month without Roethlisberger. Its been a few years since weve seen the 35-year old Vick getting it done as a winning quarterback and his limited duty last season with the Jets was not very promising. He was accurate enough in relief of Big Ben on Sunday, but its hard to call him out for not getting much done, as both teams struggled to get anything done on Sunday. Can Vick hold it together for several games until Roethlisberger returns or is it possible that he just doesnt have it anymore?
In Vicks favor is a vast offensive ensemble of talent that can make any quarterback look good. Again, it didnt really manifest on Sunday. But for the most part, this Steelers offense is going to be a handful for opposing defenses. On Sunday, RB LeVeon Bell returned to the fray and his production as a runner and pass-catcher is enormous. WR Martavis Bryant returns this week from suspension, adding another big target and deep threat. Add that to the extraordinary Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Heath Bell, Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeAngelo Williams, and the still-lively legs of Vickyou can see how much explosive potential this offense has.
Giving Pittsburgh some extra hope moving ahead without Big Ben is a defense that is getting better and better. This is a Pittsburgh defense that is in the midst of a transition, with a leaning toward youth and the departure of Dick LeBeau in the offseason. A lot of young players are starting to come around and give this defense the teeth youre used to seeing from a top-flight Pittsburgh team. In the next month, they will be called upon to do more of the heavy lifting. And after giving up just 24 points in their last two games, they just might be up to the task.
Baltimore isnt catching any early favors this season with 3 of their first 4 games on the road. Now they come into Pittsburgh feeling deflated yet desperate at the same time. Aerially, they have been pretty good, with Joe Flacco throwing for a massive 746 yards in his last two games. Steve Smith, Sr. has 23 catches and 336 yards in the past two weeks. The problem is, well, just about everything else. The run game has been suffering, with Justin Forsett not getting untracked, with 13 yards on 10 carries on Sunday. The defense is not getting any pressure applied on opposing quarterbacks. The run-defense hasnt been all that bad, but that could just be a byproduct of it being so easy to pass against Baltimore so far this season.
On Sunday, Baltimore allowed 383 yards in the air by Andy Dalton, with AJ Green having a monster game with 227 yards receiving. The Ravens looked good in week one, keeping Peyton Manning under control, but since then, both Derek Carr of the Raiders and Dalton have feasted on this Ravens defense and the way theyve looked, its not hard to envision even Vick having success against this bunch.
With Baltimore, one gets the feeling that they will snap out of it at some point. At 0-3 and facing a Pittsburgh team without their starting quarterback, they really need to find a way to come up with a win. The pressure is on this week. Falling to 0-4 would create too big of a hole to climb out of. For all intents and purposes, Baltimores season is on the line this Thursday. But this past week against Cincy, they were also feeling urgency and it still wasnt enough to get them over the hump. Sometimes, no matter how critical the situation is or how much willpower youre able to drum up, some things just arent in the cards.
Even if Roethlisberger were in there, Pittsburgh would be looking at a really tough game this week against a Baltimore team that simply has no remaining margin for error. But with Vick in there, one has to wonder what this Steelers offense will look like, especially when the game is on the line. As uncomfortable as it may seem to take Baltimore as a favorite at this point, I see this being a tough spot for the Steelers this Thursday.
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