Last Updated: 2017-12-06
An AFC North rivalry took center stage on Monday night and one will take center stage on Sunday night. The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers wrap up what promises to be a great Sunday of football in Week 14 with this Sunday Night Football matchup. The Ravens opened as a six-point underdog at Bookmaker, but we have seen early action on the road dogs to push this number down to +5 at several shops.
There is a lot to unpack with this game. The Ravens, who find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt at 7-5, have won three straight and four of their last five to move up into Wild Card contention in the slap and tickle fight that is the AFC. Baltimore’s huge win and cover over Detroit means that the Ravens are 3-1-1 ATS over the last five, including two shutout wins. The Steelers won, but failed to cover in a primetime spot for the second straight week and have only covered twice in the last five games, but didn’t look great in primetime giving up 482 yards to the Lions back on October 29.
Baltimore has won 40-0, 23-0, and 44-20 over the last six weeks, with a bye week mixed in. In those games, the Ravens have had 295, 219, and 370 yards of offense. Baltimore isn’t winning with offense and that’s basically the point to make here. The Ravens, despite a season-high 370 yards against the Lions, are very much dead last in yards per play this season with 4.5. Joe Flacco has completed 65 percent of his passes, but only has an 11/11 TD/INT ratio and just 5.5 yards per attempt. He’s been throwing the ball downfield more in recent weeks without a whole lot of success, but maybe it has opened things up for Alex Collins and the running game. Flacco can’t seem to connect with Mike Wallace, who only has 34 catches, and hasn’t been able to throw Jeremy Maclin open often enough. It is hard for teams to move the ball without explosive plays and the Ravens only have 8.5 yards per reception this season. Fortunately, Collins has 4.9 yards per carry and the Ravens have been able to rely on him a little bit more lately. They may not have that chance this week, as Collins has been suffering from migraine headaches. The Ravens have only converted 32.5 percent of their third down attempts this year.
The Ravens defense, however, has been absolutely outstanding this year. Baltimore has forced 29 turnovers, which has allowed the offense to have a little bit more of a chance with short fields. The Ravens are only of six teams allowing fewer than five yards per play this season. With 20 interceptions and 33 sacks, the Ravens are second in adjusted net yards per pass attempt against this season at 4.1. Only Jacksonville is better at 3.4 and the Chargers are the next closest at 4.6. The Ravens haven’t moved the ball in chunks on offense, but the opposition hasn’t moved the ball much either. Unlike the Jaguars and Chargers, the Ravens are also a top-10 defense against the run with just 3.9 yards per carry allowed. Baltimore will have to make some significant adjustments in the secondary this week because star corner Jimmy Smith ruptured his Achilles and is out for the season. To add insult to injury, he was also suspended four games for a positive PED test. Smith led the team in pass breakups and was second to Eric Weddle in interceptions. That means Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey will have to figure out how to cover Antonio Brown.
On the bright side for Baltimore, at least JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t be a factor. The Steelers vs. Bengals game basically looked more like as streetfight than a football game on Monday Night. The cheap shots and the mountain of penalty yards resulted in some suspensions and Smith-Schuster will sit out a game for his violent and unnecessary block on Vontaze Burfict. Ben Roethlisberger will once again have to rely heavily on Antonio Brown. But, if you’re going to have to rely on one guy, he’s a pretty good one to rely on. Roethlisberger is 274-of-436 on the season with a mediocre 22/13 TD/INT ratio. Brown has 88 of those catches for 1,296 yards and nine of the touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell has 66 of those catches and also has 270 rushing attempts with 3.9 yards per carry. The Steelers offense isn’t what we’ve seen in years past, but with Bell and Brown, the team can still move the ball. Pittsburgh is tied for eighth with 5.6 yards per play. The last game against the Steelers, however, marked the fourth game in the last five that the Steelers have failed to run for at least 100 yards.
Football became secondary on Monday night when Ryan Shazier suffered what is being called a spinal cord contusion. He was carted off the field without feeling in his lower half and the video, which you’ve probably seen by now, was very scary. As Shazier continues to recover, the spectacular Steelers defense attempts to move on with its leader and top tackler. The Pittsburgh defense has held the opposition to five yards per play this season and ranks sixth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt. Pittsburgh is also second in sacks. Keith Butler will have to adjust without Shazier, who was on pace to play in every game of a season for the first time in his career. Shazier isn’t the only Steelers defender out of action. Joe Haden remains out with a broken leg and Mike Mitchell missed the game against Cincinnati.
Free NFL Pick: Baltimore Ravens +5
There are some 5.5s and a stray 6 or two out there, so be sure to shop around for the best number. Traditionally, these games are very close. Dating back to November 2009, 14 of the last 19 games have been decided by seven points or less and 12 of those by four points or less. The Steelers have a short week to recover and are missing two key pieces, one on each side of the ball. The spot favors Baltimore and the Ravens are not beating themselves with turnovers, which helps with a subpar offense.