The Steelers play host to Baltimore for tonight's Thursday Night Football Showdown. But how will they fare with Mike Vick under center in this anticipated rivaly game?
Disecting the Ravens
The headlines in this game are not hard to figure out. At 0-3 SU ATS, Baltimore is the only winless team in the AFC. That is a bit perplexing for a team, who has a previous 4-year record of 46-26 SU and has made the playoffs in 7 of the previous 8 years under 8th year HC Harbaugh. Note that the chances of the Ravens making the playoffs are slim, as less than 3% of the teams who have begun the season 0-3 SU have made the playoffs in the last 25 years. Reasons for the demise have been a pass defense allowing 292 PYPG, a running game averaging just 22/73 and only 65% pass completions from QB Flacco. Nonetheless, the Ravens have been competitive in every game with losses of 6 at Denver, 4 at Oakland and 4 last week at home vs. Cinci. They could have actually won all of those games. If there was ever a team in recent history that has the ability to turn it around, it would be these Ravens who have a strong defensive pedigree and a solid history of success.
Feeling on Big-Ben-Less Steelers
The case for Pittsburgh is clear. It will be a classic situation in which the value laden home dog rises up for its fallen leader to play an emotional game before the adoring home fans. An MRI this week showed that QB Roethlisberger will be out 4 to 6 weeks (knee). Extra motivation in this contest for Pittsburgh comes with a double revenge motive. These teams played 3 times last year. Baltimore won the first meeting (26-6) at home on September 11th. Though, the Steelers got their revenge with a (43-23) home victory on November 2nd, it is the 3rd meeting of the season in the playoffs that will live in the Steelers’ minds. Baltimore won 30-17 on this field, profiting from 3 Pittsburgh TOs for a 30-17 win, despite being outrushed and out passed by the home-standing Steelers. Thus, there is plenty of motivation for each team.
Prior to last season, these teams had a history of playing very close games. In fact, 5 consecutive games between these two bitter division rivals had been decided by 3 or less points, dating to 2011.
With all the above as background, we return to the fundamentals of the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After Roethlisberger left the game last week, his replacement, QB Vick, “managed the game,” allowing the Steelers to hang on for a 12-6 win at St. Louis. That ran the record to 2-1 SU, 2-0 ATS for the season for the Steelers. Their success, however, was largely a function of a strong right arm of Big Ben, who led the Steelers’ offense to 76% completions and 300 PYPG. Do not expect those types of numbers from QB Vick tonight. In addition, it is Fools Gold to count on a Pittsburgh defense who has allowed just 17 PPG and 343 YPG. This will clearly be the weak link of the team and is due to be exploited by a quality offense, much as they were when they played New England and QB Brady in their Week 1, 28-21 loss. Ravens’ motivation from the 0-3 SU start is greater than Steelers’ revenge motive and emotional game in the face of the loss of Big Ben!
The Baltimore Ravens are my NFL pick for this Thursday night football game. Remember, that despite the NFL odds which favor Baltimore in this game, that in all NFL games where the opening line is 6 or less points … the team who wins the game straight up has covered the pointspread in 41 of 43 games this year and is a long-time 90% ATS pointspread winning selection.
NFL Pick: Ravens -2.5 (-125) at Bet365