Opening Odds Report for AFC North Rivals: Ravens vs. Steelers

Jason Lake

Monday, October 27, 2014 5:38 PM GMT

Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 5:38 PM GMT

It’s been an interesting ride for these AFC North rivals, but the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are both on pace for 10 wins this year. Which team should we add to our NFL picks for Sunday night?

Jason’s Record After Week 7: 22-29 ATS, 7-11-1 Totals

Profit: minus-29.68 units

Betting on football wouldn’t work out very well if the games were too predictable. But too much chaos doesn’t help, either. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3 SU, 4-4 ATS), who have put together back-to-back wins SU and ATS after a poor start to their 2014 campaign. Or the Baltimore Ravens (5-3 SU, 4-3-1 ATS), who look like Super Bowl contenders one week and pretenders the next. What’s a bettor to do?

Even the sharps are having trouble figuring these two teams out. The Steelers welcome their divisional rivals to the Mustard Bowl this Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC), and according to our early consensus reports, Pittsburgh had a slight 55-percent edge in support as a 1.5-point chalk on the Week 9 NFL odds board. That edge melted away to 51 percent when the lines moved to Pittsburgh PK (–125). It’s another toss-up, folks.

 

The Pittsburgh Plunge
We’ve been harshly critical of the Steelers this year, but that’s only because they were playing awful football. Things have changed for the better over the past two weeks. Pittsburgh improved from No. 20 to No. 14 on the DVOA charts after beating the Houston Texans (+3 away) in Week 7. We imagine the Steelers will rise even higher after outslugging the Indianapolis Colts (–5 away) in Week 8.

Having said that, Pittsburgh almost coughed up a 35-10 lead against the Colts before winning 51-34. You already know about Andrew Luck’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, punctuated by the Butt Safety that ended Indy’s comeback. And if you saw the game, you also saw Ben Roethlisberger try a pooch punt late in the first half; Indianapolis blocked it, then scored a field goal to make it a two-score game going into the dressing room. Pittsburgh also fumbled the ball away twice to keep the Colts alive.

 

Fever Ray
The Ravens have been difficult to pin down, too, but their level of play has been much higher than Pittsburgh’s for the most part. Football Outsiders had them all the way up at No. 2 on the DVOA charts (No. 4 offense, No. 6 defense, No. 8 special teams) going into Week 8. Even after Sunday’s highly competitive 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5 at home), Baltimore was the league’s No. 4-ranked team at Pro Football Reference with a plus-8.4 SRS.

Funny how we’re not talking about Ray Rice anymore. The last time the Steelers and Ravens met was in Week 2, just after Baltimore terminated Rice’s contract. We had Pittsburgh among our NFL picks that week, based on the effects of the scandal and the 0-3 ATS record the Ravens had in their last three meetings with the Steelers. Baltimore won that game 26-6 as a 2.5-point home chalk; Pittsburgh lost a pair of fumbles in that one, as well.

 

This Justin 
Getting rid of Rice was bound to help Baltimore eventually. The Ravens saw their running game collapse in 2013 as Rice dropped from 4.4 yards to 3.1 yards per carry, turning him into the worst tailback in football (minus-169 rushing DYAR) after consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately for the Ravens, they also had the NFL’s second-worst tailback: Bernard Pierce (3.6 yards per carry, minus-131 DYAR).

Some of that is on the offensive line, which was upgraded during the offseason, but the unlikely savior for 2014 has been former third-stringer Justin Forsett (5.5 yards per carry), who’s on his fourth NFL team in four years. Forsett was also fourth in rushing DYAR at plus-89 through Week 7. We say “unlikely” only because Forsett didn’t get a lot of burn at his previous stops, but when he did run, he usually ran well. We’ve seen enough now to believe he’s the real deal. Stay tuned for our NFL pick on the spread and total for Sunday night’s matchup.

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