NFL Pick: Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1-1 SU, 1-2 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday September 30, 7:25 PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
By: Keith Allen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Spread: Balt +3 (+100) / Pitt -3 (-120)
Baltimore invades the Steel City for a week 4 AFC North battle with the Steelers as 3 point underdogs. The Ravens are definitely live dogs for this contest and the side to be on for Sunday Night Football.
Baltimore is Starting to Play Classic Raven Football
The Ravens and John Harbaugh have never bought into this theory of throw the ball around the yard and try to be the first team to 40. Baltimore wants to take care of the ball, take a few deep shots off of play action, control the clock and play stifling defense. That is just what they did against Denver and exactly what they should be able to do against Pittsburgh. Baltimore’s defense got off to a slow start and spotted Denver 14 points in the first 8 minutes but then clamped down and shut out the Broncos the rest of the day. They sacked Case Keenum 3 times to bring their season total to 9, and are second in the league allowing only 4.3 yards per play.
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Pittsburgh and Baltimore play one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. These games are generally close and usually will come down to the 4th quarter. One of these defenses will have to make a stop at some point in the game. 5 years ago both of these teams had defenses that could close out a game when they were called on. Only one team does now, and it’s not the Steel Curtain. Pittsburgh’s plan to win games this year is based on out-scoring their opponent. They have no expectation their defense will be able to put the clamps on anyone. The Ravens defense can still rise to the occasion and lock down a win. C.J. Mosley should return to his linebacker position this week and bring the defense back to full strength. Look for the Raven defense to make key plays this week.
Ravens Can Exploit the Steeler Weaknesses
The Steelers Defense has justifiably been raked over the coals for their poor start to the season. Specifically, the Chiefs game in which Kansas City torched the Steel Curtain for 450 yards and 42 points in week 2. The weakness at linebacker since the loss of Ryan Shazier has been well documented and plenty of video gets shown every week of opposing receivers running wide open across the middle of the field. The Ravens new receiving crew will be able to continue the trend and take advantage of this weakness. Joe Flacco is completing 64% of his passes and will be more than happy to throw short passes to Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and Buck Allen out of the backfield while John Brown runs deep. The Steelers haven’t been able to cover the middle of the field yet this year, and there is no reason to expect they will suddenly be able to this week.
The Steelers offense has been effective the past 2 weeks, scoring 67 points in those 2 contests. However, their opponents in those games have some of the weakest defenses in the league. Kansas City’s defense has allowed 92 over 3 games and the Bucs have allowed 91. Those performances are even more misleading in that the Chiefs were basically in a prevent defense a good part of the game and the Bucs turned the ball over 4 times including a pick-6 and giving Pittsburgh short fields. Pittsburgh only converted 3 of 11 third downs against Tampa – not a sign of an offense that is dialed in. In week 1 the Browns held Big Ben and the Steeler offense to 21 points and forced 6 turnovers. Baltimore’s defense will be the stiffest challenge the Steelers have faced in 2018 so we are not likely to see the same product that has been on the field the last 2 weeks. Let’s not be fooled by the recent success of the Pittsburgh offense into thinking they will score in the 30’s against Baltimore.
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Baltimore is the Better Coached Team
Harbaugh is one of the steadiest coaches going in the NFL and always has his team ready on Sunday. Even in situations when some adversity hits them – like giving up 14 points in the first 8 minutes to Denver, or coming off a bad National TV loss to the Bengals – the Ravens can block out the distractions and take care of business. They will be laser focused in this game and not get rattled if they hit a bump in the road.
Pittsburgh on the other hand is a soap opera. The team is in a social media war with their hold out running back, Antonio Brown’s whining is in mid-season form and Mike Tomlin shows no signs of being in control. It was raining yellow flags on Monday as Tomlin’s squad racked up 13 penalties for 155 yards and have 37 penalties on the season. A team can only overcome these setbacks when they get 4 turnovers. It’s a lot more likely the Steelers rack up the same penalty yards than them taking the ball away from the Ravens 4 times this week. When the going gets tough on Sunday night, it’s a lot more likely Pittsburgh shoots themselves in the foot than the team pulling together for the common good. This could very well be another episode in the Steelers Soap Opera.
Grab the Points and Play the Dog in this Rivalry
There is a narrative that the Steelers are a great home team because of Big Ben’s success at home and struggles on the road. However, Pittsburgh is only 3-7 ATS at Heinz Field since the start of 2017, and have only covered the spread twice since losing Ryan Shazier in week 13 last year. This game sets up as a classic dogfight that should go down to the final horn and the Ravens are the team more equipped to end up on top. 8 of the last 14 games between these teams have been decided by 3 points or less, so getting 3 points at even money with the better defense and better coach is the side to be on. Play the Dog.