The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) struggled to beat the pitiful Kansas City Chiefs 16-13 in overtime Monday night, but the bigger news out of that game was the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to a shoulder injury. One great thing about Big Ben that does not turn up in the stats is that he probably has the best pocket awareness of any quarterback in the NFL, and that will be missed behind a shaky offensive line.
The Ravens (7-2) meanwhile annihilated the Oakland Raiders 55-20, and a win here just might lock up the AFC North. Baltimore is a -3½ road favorite, and while we admit that sounds like an overreaction, it may not end up being one with the fossil Byron Leftwich at quarterback. The ‘total’ is set at 40.
1. Why Baltimore will cover the spread: The Ravens will cover this spread if they can control the Pittsburgh running game. The aging Baltimore defense is ranked only 26th in rushing defense this season, but with Roethlisberger out, Baltimore can commit extra defenders in the box and basically dare Leftwich to throw over the top of the defense. Another injury incurred by the Steelers vs. the Chiefs that is attracting far less notice is safety Ryan Clark suffering his second concussion in three weeks. That leads us to a second key to a Baltimore cover, and that would be Joe Flacco attacking two Pittsburgh backup safeties with Troy Polamalu also still roaming the sideline.
2. Why Pittsburgh will cover the spread: Pittsburgh will cover the spread if Leftwich can pass effectively on early downs, thereby staying out of too many third-and-long situations. This becomes doubly important if the Ravens put extra players in the box as we expect. A second key for the Steelers is their defense doing its best to take Ray Rice out of the game, both by stopping the run and by forcing Flacco to throw to other options in the short/swing passing game.
3. Total Talk: We see this is as a low scoring game with each team having mixed results in accomplishing its goals. We do think that the Ravens can stop the Pittsburgh running game with some commitment, especially after the Steelers regressed to only 95 rushing yards on 29 carries vs. the Chiefs. We also think that Leftwich lacks the same escapability that Roethlisberger possesses, as Big Ben’s ability to side-step oncoming rushers has compensated for shoddy line play. At the same time, we do see the proud Pittsburgh defense stepping up and not handing anything to Baltimore in what is a must-win for the Steelers. In the end, we think that Leftwich’s slow delivery will prove costly in the narrowest of Baltimore covers, but we like the ‘under’ quite a bit more.
4. Betting Trends for STEELERS/RAVENS: We are actually flying in the face of trends that have seen the ‘over’ go 9-3-1 in the last 13 meetings overall and 7-1-1 in the last nine meetings in Pittsburgh, but we feel Roethlisberger has that much of an impact, even more so than some quarterbacks with gaudier stats. The Steelers are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games following a straight up win.
Baltimore 21 – Pittsburgh 16